The Great Betty Read #40: Neels’s THE LITTLE DRAGON

Little_DragonI did so enjoy my latest Betty read, The Little Dragon. I especially appreciated the non-OW conflict. Instead, we have a heroine (who skips!) with an unreasonable hatred of wealth. Utterly unconvincing because she reaps its benefits when the hero throws delicious dinners and beautiful clothes her way. But I don’t want to make Constantia sound like a hypocrite. She’s just not terribly smart and can’t recognize either the irony of her position, or the evidence of her husband’s wealth! (That it’s a marriage-of-convenience-troped romance made it all the better for me.) It’s a bit silly, but I loved the dynamic between Constantia and Jeroen and its accompanying Betty accoutrements: food, flowers, clothes, treats, cuddle-able animals, adorable children, extended warm family, a beautiful, graceful home (where hot drinks are served in Meissen cups), and a gargantuan, handsome doctor-hero who is described with my favourite Betty adjective, “placid,” and whose actions are accompanied by the adverb, “lazily”. He even smiles “lazily”! He is the ideal of Betty safety and security, comfort and strength; when Constantia gazes at him, she sees someone who is “solid and safe and very handsome”. I loved how Betty conveyed the hero’s kindness, through acts and second-hand. The children tell Constantia about the new doggie addition to the household, magnificently named “Prince,” given his humble beginnings: “Oom Jeroen found him in a ditch and brought him home to live with us.”

The Little Dragon is standard Neels fare. The blurb summary: 

She swore she would never marry a rich man! As a private nurse to wealthy spoiled people, Constantia had seen the misery too much money could bring. Jeroen van der Giessen, though, was only a poor overworked G. P., so when she found herself stranded in Delft without money or passport, and Jeroen offered marriage, Constantia accepted. At first she was quite happy with her loveless marriage, though she thought Jeroen was being recklessly extravagant–until she began to discover things, about herself and him, that took away all her new-found happiness…

Meh, I’m not sure about Constantia being able to “discover things”. She’s not that bright. Jeroen’s grandmother throws them an expensive post-wedding party … duh, Constantia. Jeroen’s sister, whose children are staying with their uncle while she and her husband are in New York on a business deal, seems to live in the most expensive part of Delft. And the servants?! They’re so happy and cuddly and appear constantly to produce delicious dinners and polish silverware. I’ll concede one point to Constantia: Jeroen does tell her he’s living in this graceful, beautiful, heirloom-filled home because a “relative” lends it to him, preferring his country estate (which is, of course, Jeroen’s own).

In truth though, this was moot for me, given how much I enjoyed the Betty accoutrements and the growing, loving relationship between Jeroen and Constantia. On their first “date”, when Constantia bumps into Jeroen while exploring Delft on her half-day-off, he treats her to tea and Constantia eats two “cream cakes”, encouraged to spear another one after the first by Jeroen himself, “Have another cake — your carbohydrates must be at a very low ebb.” Now, this is my kind of hero, the cream-cake-encouraging kind. When Jeroen invites Constantia home to have yet more tea, they have “bread and butter and jam and a large cake” with the children; after the children are in bed, they indulge in an adult coffee repast of “little chicken patties and sausage rolls.” They share many more meals and, as it was the 70s when Betty wrote her Little Dragon, they have “quiche” for lunch (I counted at least three “quiche” lunches), which Constantia considers “cordon bleu”.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking about Betty’s attitude towards work and how readily her heroines give up their nursing careers, in which there may be some drudgery, but also professional satisfaction and fulfillment. While we can throw aspersions towards Betty’s non-feminist stance, certainly, and justified too, we can also get off our feminist plinth and consider how Betty distinguishes between work and service, connecting purpose to leisure rather than career, or profit. When the heroine gives up nursing to marry the hero, it’s also to bring up their children, run a household, and enjoy hobbies (one heroine wants to pursue her embroidery). Is this a viable model for everyone? Absolutely not. Is it an idealized, circumscribed feminine 1950s utopia? Yes. On the other hand, does it elevate “work” as the sole means of realizing a life well-lived? Nope. What is important to Betty’s heroes and heroines is purpose, not “work”, even in the form of “career”. Her heroes are doctors and work hard, despite great wealth, because they take it as an natural extension of who they are to care for others. As do the heroines, until the hero comes along and provides them with a means to do the same while also being thoroughly loved, cared for, and respected. Thank you for coming to my TED talk on Betty’s undermining of the work-as-virtue ethic … 

‘Nuff said, The Little Dragon is going onto the reread shelf of Betties. Miss Austen agrees.

10 thoughts on “The Great Betty Read #40: Neels’s THE LITTLE DRAGON

  1. This is one of my favorites I think. I remember reading it sometime in the last two years. And I love how you articulate the finding purpose in household work which, as you point out, is still work. I know. I am one of those ‘heroines,’ though I do not have as lavish a lifestyle as they do! (I wish!) Running a house, being a stay at home mom is work too. And so far, i’m having fun doing it and exploring my other interests!

    Also, love your love of Betty! She is my absolute comfort read!

    Hope you’re having a good weekend Miss B!

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    1. Thank you, Juhi! Pamela Regis says that the romance couple should always point to a society better than the one they started in, as a result of their HEA. So, I’m so glad you’re living your HEA and bringing up wonderful children. And getting time to pursue things you love. Like reading Betty and many others!

      Wishing you a great weekend too!

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  2. Ooh, is this the one where the servants are hiding in the attic, because the heroine isn’t to know that the hero can afford full-time live-in help? It was funny, I enjoyed it, and the food as always, is great.

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    1. Yes, that’s the one! It was hilarious how they’d leave luxurious food around, or surreptitiously polish silver. It was a hoot! Really great Betty! There was lobster bisque at one point …

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  3. I never thought of Constantia being several fries short of a Happy Meal the previous times I read this. That interpretation of her ‘smarts’ makes all the difference!
    Otherwise, you are left with a ‘hero’ who deliberately deceives his bride re: his financial circumstances in order to ‘prove’ to her that not all rich people are bad! Bah!

    Your ruminations on Betty’s life/work balance are interesting. Betty was the primary breadwinner for much of her married life. I have often thought that her depiction of her heroine’s leaving the workplace at marriage, for a life of ease, comfort, and a lightening of responsibilities, was really just a ‘it sure would have been nice’ bit of wishful thinking!

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    1. *roars with laughter* *stomachache* “Several fries short of a Happy Meal” … yup, dense, thick. And if the hero manages to lamely deceive her, well, the signs were there for her to read.

      It’s definitely a wish-fulfillment narrative. As a spinster of limited, if independent means, well, I can see the attraction, but mine only encompasses lottery winnings, not rich Dutch doctors … LOL!!!

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  4. Take two: I hadn’t remembered this story until the reminder of the servants surreptitiously slinking about polishing silver. And surely there aren’t that many Neels heroines (if any) that are a bit light in their intellectual loafers. Time for a re-read, clearly. Janet

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    1. I LOVED the clandestine silver polishing!!

      Sadly, our Constantia is a dim, dim bulb. But it’s worth rereading and … BONUS, no OW, my least favourite Neels convention.

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