My Great Betty Neels read continued with #28, Heaven Is Gentle. I didn’t have too many expectations for this one. There wasn’t much buzz about it as a favourite Betty and consequently, I approached it cavalierly. It surprised me how much I loved it. It opened with a beautifully droll ironic scene. Dr. Christian van Duyl and Professor Wyllie are deciding on hiring a nurse. She must be plain, motherly, large, and eminently spinsterish. Dr. van Duyl is running a special asthma clinic in the Scottish Highlands, of which Professor Wyllie is both patient and participant and said nurse will be on board to aid with patients. Christian and the Prof settle on Miss Eliza Proudfoot, who, when she appears in the Wester Ross clinic, turns out to be beautiful, young, snappy, tiny, and anything but a plain-Jane spinster. At 28, she’s a spinster, but not for lack of offers. What follows holds many Betty delights: Christian and Eliza verbally spar and snap at each other. The more they dislike each other, the greater their attraction. They rescue a cat and kittens, withstand a flood, and Christian rescues Eliza when she’s caught in a dangerous thunder-lightning-torrent storm.
Their time together comes to an end and Eliza has realizes she loves the old poop Dr. van Duyl, large, handsome, stern, charming. Ever the machinating hero, and with Betty’s lovely authorial manipulation, they meet again! Surprise! Professor Wyllie falls ill and insists he join his friend, Dr. van Duyl, in Holland, accompanied by his favourite nurse, Eliza. Eliza’s arrival at Christian’s home only serves to cement her love for him. His home and gracious mother serve as a Pemberley to her perturbed spirit. But our Eliza is in love with a man affianced to another, a cold fish named Estelle, snooty, without Eliza’s love of animals and brisk walks. I loved Heaven Is Gentle because of the animals, food, antique furnishings, the Highland and then Dutch setting, and because our hero Christian is caught between his growing love for Eliza and his obligation to Estelle.
Eliza, in the meanwhile, is one of those Betty heroines whose propensity for blurting things at inappropriate times is testament to her strong, honest feelings. She can barely restrain her temper and, unlike the meek and mild Betty heroine (one I can enjoy as well as this one), Eliza resolves to take Christian away from Estelle. I admit I was taken aback by a Betty-heroine having these assertive thoughts, but I didn’t love Eliza any less for them. Au contraire, they make for great reading. I cheered her on! Eliza knows Christian would be miserable with Estelle and she wants to save him. I liked her resolve and her means, forthrightness. Heaven Is Gentle is another great addition to my Great Betty Read and one I’ll be rereading. As for tonight, bring on Henrietta’s Own Castle.