May 11, 2017/An Author Fondly Remembered

I love to read.

There is nothing like diving into a good book and being caught up with descriptions of different places, foods, clothes, while authors take you on exciting travels with their words.

I don’t, however, enjoy books that deal with horror or descriptive violence or sex…so I tend to read ‘older’ books now. I can empathize with the delightful characters in Patrick Taylor’s ‘Irish Country’ series which takes place in Ireland in the 1950’s. I can devour the clues in ‘cozy’ mysteries such as the ‘Christine Bennett’ series by author Lee Taylor, or Rita Lankin’s ‘Gladdy Gold’s’ mysteries.

When I am stressed and feeling in need of a gentle romance, however, I  pick up a Betty Neels book.

Betty Neels was a Harlequin author who published over 134 romances for the British publisher Mills and Boon beginning in 1969. Her ‘formula’ usually consisted of a rather plain, hard-working nurse meeting an older, rather well-off Dutch doctor who whisked her off to the Netherlands where he managed to show her a world of museums, antiques, gourmet food, and the one or two large homes that he owned while purposely concealing his growing love. Unlike most of the sexual exploits incorporated in today’s tomes, our Dutch doctor’s romantic intentions consisted of one or two kisses. and the introduction at some point of his parents and friends as he courted his lady of choice in an altruistic manner that employed the noblest of romantic love.

A lot of people looked down on Mills and Boon books (or Harlequin as they are called here in the USA) as being trite and of no value. I would beg to differ. I learned a lot from Betty and the other Harlequin authors I read. When my husband and I traveled overseas and visited Holland, I was quick to order Pannenkoeken (a Dutch pancake with bacon over which I poured a thick molasses-type syrup), or Erwtensoep (a really, REALLY thick pea soup usually with bits of ham), and Stroopwafels (two thin wafer cookies which encompass caramel which you usually put over top a hot cup of tea or coffee to melt the caramel before you eat them.)

She wrote of the great Dutch artists you could find in museums like the Rijuksmuseum where you would find paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt. She described the canals, the Dam Square, the Anne Frank house, and the old churches in the cities of Amsterdam, Delft, Utrecht, Leiden, and Haarlem.

By now, you are probably wondering why I’m blathering about some romance author on a page that is dedicated to a Christian devotional, aren’t you?

The reason has to do with how the most innocent of readings can drive a Biblical truth home. While reading one of Betty Neel’s books yesterday, I was struck by a simple statement the hero made to the heroine.

“Generosity is giving away something which will deprive one.” (Copyright by Betty Neels in ‘The Fortunes of Francesca’ republished by Harelquin, 2013.)

(Hopefully, I have given the proper attribution to avoid copyright infringemen by including this.I tend to try to be very careful about that kind of thing as an author deserves the right to have their words attributed after they work so hard to get published!)

Betty Neels always had her characters going to church in her stories. She never emphasized it in a major way–it was simply what people did on Sunday. And she kept the Christian doctrine of helping strangers and the poor in the forefront of her novels without harping on it. Her heroes were well-to-do, but gave of their time and themselves to make a better world without expecting rewards of praise or adulation. These were living, breathing, romantic men who WORKED long hours as doctors or even businessmen, who inherited a great deal of money and could easily live a life of leisure but were intent on helping people. Often, she would write how these men would go off secretly to dangerous war-torn areas to operate on children or set up clinics to help the poor without being paid.

While not a ‘Christian’ romance per se, my path as a young Christian girl was impacted by what Betty Neels wrote. Her statement about generosity above is right on target with that of Paul in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 9:7-Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

Christians, I am sure, take this truth at face value. We put our offerings in the collection plate. We may help the poor and needy by volunteering in some manner or giving clothes or cans of food. Yet, we don’t always think about how what we practice ‘giving’ in our daily lives can impact others.

Betty practiced her Christian principals by writing gentle stories that illustrated how two people of different backgrounds can come together in the kind of tender love each of us secretly yearns to find. She took the Biblical principle that true generosity requires sacrifice and incorporated into her work in such a manner that one accepted that as the ‘norm’ rather than as a diatribe of doctrine. She made attending church on Sunday part of her stories when she didn’t have to. She never preached her Christian faith, she simply wrote from the heart.

God loves a cheerful giver…and that means giving more than mere money.

Betty Neels gave me a lot more than a good story when I began reading her books at the age of seventeen. She showed me that I was not ALONE in attending church or wishing for the type of honorable man I found on the pages of her books. She gave me information on art, architecture, museums, and foreign cities.

I have most of her books in print or as e-books. I revisit them often. They help to remind me of the simple joy of growing up with an author who had such a big impact on my attitude toward life and love. I doubt she ever knew how much of an impact her books might have had when she was busy writing…but when I see what is available to young girls now, I offer thanks that there were writers like Betty Neels for me to choose from when I was growing up.

Betty’s ‘purpose in her heart’ was to write a good romance. She achieved that and then some, in my opinion!

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