Only by Chance (Betty Neels)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a great example of classic Betty Neels — a sweet, comforting romance where there’s almost as much drinking tea and rescuing stray cats as there is actual romance (also the characters never do more than share a semi-chaste kiss).  Here, we have an unassuming, ladylike young woman with no looks to speak of who is constantly rescued by a successful, handsome doctor.  She falls in love with him almost immediately, while he finds her to be borderline bothersome, but gradually he finds himself more and more drawn to her.

Greater Detail:
Henrietta Cowper is an orphan with mediocre looks, a mild temperament, and a kind heart.  She has two stray cats she’s rescued (Dickens and Ollie, after Oliver Twist), and lives in an attic.  After both of her parents were killed, she was raised briefly by her grandparents, and then later, in a children’s home.  She is intelligent and educated, but because of circumstances, has never pursued further education, which makes her ill qualified for competing in the job market.  She therefore balances work as an untrained nurse’s aide in the afternoons, getting up early to clean offices in the mornings.

Adam Ross-Pitt is a respected surgeon and consultant.  He is wealthy, comes from a well-respected family, and is heavily in demand.  Though he is pursued quite ardently by Deirdre Stone (daughter to his mother’s friend), he really has no interest in her (or any other female), being mostly dedicated to his work.  He continually stumbles upon Henrietta, and initially helps her out of kindness and a sense of duty.

Adam rescues Henrietta from a variety of situations throughout the book – when she falls ill, he is the doctor who treats her.  When she ignores his orders to rest and goes to work anyhow, developing pneumonia, he again steps in. During the course of the novel, she is accosted by an unsavory nephew of her employer, chased by a tramp, and falls into a variety of other situations that Adam helps her out of.  They seemed destined to meet by fate, again and again, until they realize that they love each other.

Other Things to Know:
You could say that romances in general always have a lot in common – the girl gets the guy, and they always sail off into the sunset.  Paranormal romances have ghosts and vampires in the background, while regencies always have earls, the ton, and ballroom gowns. But Betty Neels’s novels have so much in common with one another that they’re almost a genre unto themselves.  I’ve read almost everything she’s published, and I think out of 100+ books, there are really probably fewer than 10 that don’t feature a doctor/surgeon/medical professor as the protagonist, and the heroines are always either nurses or, barring that, work as some nurse’s aide at some point (so that she can cross paths with the doctor). Most of the females tend to be plain (so that we can relate to them more easily, as they’re not ravishing beauties?) and they almost always have memorably beautiful eyes framed by long lashes.  More often than not, there is some scheming, sophisticated woman who’s also pursuing our doctor, whom the heroine sees as a real threat, but who ends up being too hard-edged, too self-absorbed, too modern, really, for the hero in question.

The love story is almost a backdrop – always there, but kind of left behind within the everyday routines of having tea, shopping for clothes (there is always clothes shopping, envy of women with better clothes, etc) and food descriptions (the restaurants they go to, or food that the dedicated cooks prepare, from cucumber sandwiches to lobster claws and apple pies with cream).  As I said, it’s a genre unto itself; she’s an author I find to be very comforting and comfortable to read, but it’s not your normal everyday romance novel in the sense that there won’t be a lot of kisses, unmitigated passion, or even gradual realizations of feelings.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
If you’re willing to talk about Betty Neels in terms of her ability to offer comfortable/comfort romance, where a kiss is the most passionate thing that might happen and where the romance is almost secondary to the daily tasks of the day (having tea, going on walks, rescuing kittens and whatnot), the closest I can think would be someone like Georgette Heyer, though that’s set in the regency era and Betty Neels’s romances are more or less present-day (think 1990s). I think most people either find her soothing or like the boringest writer ever… (I find her soothing!)

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