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Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Excellent Women (1952)

by Barbara Pym

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,017964,928 (4.01)1 / 556
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English (93)  Tagalog (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (96)
Showing 1-5 of 93 (next | show all)
A world so far away from today that it almost feels like a Twilight Zone episode. So much tea is drunk that I couldn't stop thinking that all the characters were dying to pee. Do Excellent Women exist today? I suppose so, but todays version would advise William Caldicote to find himself a boyfriend, and tell the Napiers to supervise the movers their own damn selves. I am going to try really hard to dream tonight that Mildred Lathbury time travels and finds herself in an episode of Sex and the City. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
This series of set pieces oozes austerity. Anglicans endure the post-war shortages with a sober humor and allow their imaginations to whimsy while mantaining hopes for the future. The protagonist shuffles between a small circle of characters, sips a great deal of tea, ponders the limits of her education, her wit, and her looks. There are disputes and relationships dissolve, but this isn't an Iris Murdoch parlor exercise. Feelings may blush and pale. There are no scars here. That was the war, darling.

This would like merit 3.5 stars but I did find the characters clever and the struggles for clarity refreshing. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Muy divertido y además interesante. Autora recién descubierta y creo que leeré alguno más suyo. ( )
  Aditu74 | Feb 10, 2019 |
Mildred Lathbury, the protagonist of Barbara Pym's most accessible novel, is - I think - often used as a stand-in for Pym herself, even though I can't quite imagine Mildred having some of Barbara's youthful indiscretions. Certainly, though, I sometimes feel I am Mildred... and I'm a thirtysomething male! Perhaps this is the success of Excellent Women.

The worlds of Barbara Pym novels are usually small; here, indeed, we centre around a youngish spinster, her vicar and his sister, and a collection of anthropologists who have spent so much time examining the practices of other cultures that they are loath to entirely commit to the standard practices of their own. Pym's insight is as sharp as a pin, and her wit stabs like one too.

I sometimes hear Pym compared to another classic 20th century Brit, Anthony Powell (whom she read frequently) but I think there is a clear difference. Powell's characters, in his legendary "A Dance to the Music of Time" sequence, seem to be in the process of realising that life isn't entirely the tea party privileged young white people are promised. Pym's characters, on the other hand, open the book already aware of this. It is our privilege to watch them deal with this understanding, and seek a way to move forward in spite of it. Mildred's feeling on having to share a bathroom at her stage in life, for example, is not quite horror, it's just resignation with a hint of self-doubt, and an occasional flutter (usually suppressed) of hope for a better outcome in future.

Amidst the barbs and sighs of Pym's characters, we are witnessing a fantastic cultural document, an entire world unfolding before our eyes. And in every interaction, the missed moments, the unintentional disparagement, the self-doubt amplified into pain and suffering. Unusually for a Pym novel, "Excellent Women" is in the first person, meaning that we miss out on one of her most sublime talents, an almost post-modern approach to point-of-view, where the author flits disarmingly between characters, allowing us to adapt to one way of thinking before we are rudely reminded that what is logical to one person is absurdity to another.

"Bittersweet" is an easy adjective to describe the end of most of Pym's novels, but perhaps - like the post-war rationing English cuisine that fills her early books - the taste is better described as "tasty but practical". Not overly rich, sometimes making do with a substitute ingredient, and a cheap bottle of wine from the store down the street to go with one's solitary meal. But you know (most of the time) that things will feel a bit better in the morning, with crumpets and tea by the fire. ( )
1 vote therebelprince | Nov 1, 2018 |
Mildred Lathbury is an intelligent, self-sufficient woman who happens to be unmarried. In post-war England there were thousands of women like her: devout and helpful, living quiet, respectable lives; in other words, excellent women all. Their one failing, according to those around them, is that they are unmarried.

When an exciting young couple moves into the flat below Mildred's, she is drawn to Helena, the brash, independent anthropologist, and her husband, Rocky, whose charm has turned the heads of many young women. Even though the Napier's marriage is precarious and slightly scandalous, Mildred wonders if she isn't missing something in not being married. She likes the attention from Rocky, even though she knows he is only flirting, as he does with every woman. And she is slightly disappointed when the young minister at her church falls for a sexually attractive newcomer. Everyone assumes Mildred wants to be married. Does she?

The book was published in 1952, a transitional time for women in England and elsewhere. Now that the men have returned from war, wives like Helena and unmarried women like Mildred must find a way to accommodate a return to old roles, but with new sensibilities. It's this search for a new place in society that creates the tension in the novel. Must women choose to be either married or be an "excellent woman"? Or is there another choice, a way to be an independent woman who does not feel less actualized because she is unmarried?

Although others have found the book to be amusing, I found it to be melancholy. Mildred is not happy with her life, nor is she deeply unsatisfied, instead she lives an unexceptional life with quiet dignity, occasionally wondering if things could have been different, and if they had, would she have been happier? I wanted something more for her, perhaps more than she wanted for herself. I was left wondering if contentment was enough of a satisfaction in life. ( )
2 vote labfs39 | Sep 8, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Pymprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ashizu, KaoriTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ford, JessieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Halligan, GeriNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Houweling, DjukeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kiely, OrlaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McFarlane, DebraIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Porte, SabineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuman, JackieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Alexander McCallIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uras, ElifTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wilson, A. N.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winkler, DoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To My Sister
First words
"Ah, you ladies! Always on the spot when there's something happening!" The voice belonged to Mr Mallet, one of our churchwardens.
"'Dear Mildred, you must learn to feel like drinking at any time. I shall make myself responsible for your education.'" (Rocky Napier to Mildred Lathbury)
I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people's business, and if she is also a clergyman's daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her.
Let me hasten to add that I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women who tell their stories in the first person, nor have I ever thought of myself as being like her.
I was helping Winifred to sort out things for the jumble sale. "Oh, I think it's DREADFUL when people send their relations to jumble sales," she said. "How CAN they do it?" She held up a tarnished silver frame from which the head and shoulders of a woman dressed in Edwardian style looked out. "And here's another, a clergyman , too." ... "It might almost be somebody we know," lamented Winifred. "Imagine if it were and one saw it lying on the stall! What a shock it would be! I really think I must take the photographs out - it's the frames people will want to buy." "I don't suppose their own relatives send them," I said comfortingly. "I expect the photographs have been in the boxroom for years and nobody knows who they are now." "Yes, I suppose that's it. But it's the idea of being unwanted, it's like sending a PERSON to a jumble sale - do you see? You feel it more as you get older, of course. Young people would only laugh and think what a silly idea."
Virtue is an excellent thing and we should all strive after it, but it can sometimes be a little depressing.
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Book description
Mildred Lathbury is one of those excellent women who are often taken for granted. She is a godsend, 'capable of dealing with most of the stock situations or even the great moments of life - birth, marriage, death, the successful jumble sale, the garden fete spoilt by bad weather'. Her glamorous new neighbours, the Napiers, seem to be facing a marital crisis. One cannot take sides in these matters, though it is tricky, especially as Mildred has a soft spot for young Rockingham Napier. This is Barbara Pym's world at its funniest and most touching.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 014310487X, Paperback)

An unqualifiedly great novel from the writer most likely to be compared to Jane Austen, this is a very funny, perfectly written book that can rival any other in its ability to capture the essence of its characters on the page. Mildred Lathbury, the narrator of Pym's excellent book is a never-married woman in her 30s--which in 1950s England makes her a nearly-confirmed spinster. Hers is a pretty unexciting life, centered around her small church, and part-time job. But Mildred is far more perceptive and witty than even she seems to think, and when Helena and Rockingham Napier move into the flat below her, there seems to be a chance for her life to take a new direction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:13 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A subtle comedy about life and its complications chronicles the experiences of spinster Mildred Lathbury, who tends to become involved in other people's affairs, set in England during the 1950's.

» see all 5 descriptions

Legacy Library: Barbara Pym

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