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Excellent Women (Penguin Classics) by…

Excellent Women (Penguin Classics) (original 1952; edition 2006)

by Barbara Pym, A. N. Wilson (Introduction)

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1,784873,936 (4.02)1 / 514
Title:Excellent Women (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Barbara Pym
Other authors:A. N. Wilson (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2006), Edition: First Edition. 1 in number line, Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:English, Virago, Gender roles

Work details

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (1952)

Recently added byFlying_Pasties, LeslieOcc, ConxaM, tearose, LuRits, LukeHerson, phardest, private library, MegEynons, hevabean
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Showing 1-5 of 84 (next | show all)
I've reread this once a decade or so since discovering Barbara Pym in the 80's. Love the sharp wit, social satire and distinctly feminist underpinnings (under is the best you could do in her time). This time I savoured hearing it in audiobook. Two of my favourite quotes: "He dropped down dead in the library, the kind of way everybody says they'd like to go." (CH 15, sorry no pagination in audio) and "I hesitated, for there was an uneasy feeling in the air, as it umbrage was about to be taken." CH 25.
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/apr/05/featuresreviews.guardianreview30 ( )
1 vote triscuit | Jan 22, 2017 |
A comedy of manners with the ever popular plot about the post-war life of a single Englishwoman surrounded by outrageous characters (see Spark's A Far Cry from Kensington), the novel is a series of gentle jabs at the every aspect of human nature centering on relationships. Despite the ironic, almost-derogative title, the entire female cast is thankfully varied, from straight-talking anthropologist to shrewd nun to calculating widow to gossipy cleaning lady. Moral of the story: don't be "Excellent Women" who are repressed by and taken advantage of by society, be who you want to be. Recommended for light afternoon-tea comforts, beware, it is pleasantly barbed. ( )
1 vote kitzyl | Nov 29, 2016 |
Interesting how a comedy of manners set in 1950s England seems more alien than one set in Jane Austen's Regency era. Perhaps because society seems like it should be more similar to ours and yet is so dissimilar. I enjoyed the prose and gentle humor, as well as the characters, but I believe I am destined to be an Austenite and not a Pymian. ( )
  jjaylynny | Nov 12, 2016 |
Excellent Women- Barbara Pym
Audio performance by Jayne Entwistle
4 stars

Muriel Lathbury is a clergyman’s daughter, a mild mannered spinster in post-WW2 England. She has something in common with Miss Marple. She’s a very sharp observer of all the people in her tight, traditional church community. She’s an ‘excellent woman’.

When the book begins, Muriel is being pushed out of her conservative comfort zone when a married couple move into the vacated flat below hers. It is impossible to avoid the new neighbors, because they must share a bathroom. So, what does Muriel think about as she observes the dysfunctional marriage between the educated career woman and the charming RAF officer? What does she think when the her friend, the vicar, becomes engaged to a scheming widow? Muriel has a lot of thoughts, but she rarely expresses them aloud. She represses her thought and her desires.

There’s much underlying humor in this book, but it’s really a bit sad. It made me grateful that I came of age twentyfive years later than Muriel. There’s also very little difference between the busy Anglican church women of Barbara Pym’s mid-century England and the Lutheran Church Basement women of my childhood. They were all excellent women.

Jayne Entwistle performed this audiobook. After I got used to the idea that she wasn’t Flavia DeLuce, she was the perfect reader. ( )
2 vote msjudy | Sep 29, 2016 |
“I realised that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced.”

"Excellent Women" is the story of Mildred Lathbury, an unmarried woman just over the age of 30. Mildred is an average woman who lives in a flat in London. She works as a social worker in the morning and spends her afternoons helping out at her local church with the pastor and his sister. Mildred is the daughter of a clergy man so having grown up in a vicarage knows the importance of service but unfortunately she spends a lot of time helping other people rather than focusing on her own life and relationships. As such she can be seen as interfering.

The story also revolves around the concept of excellent women, those who are sensible and capable enough to live life on their own terms. In a society that values marriage, and often looks down on the unmarried as being unworthy, Mildred often finds it hard to maintain any sense of self-esteem or worth.

Much of the novel also deals with the clergy and their positions in society. The duties of being a pastor come first and foremost before all others which often means that they put their congregation before themselves. When the pastor becomes engaged to a widow his parishioners resent the fact that much of the his time is being devoted to something other than the church and the traditional roles of the congregation. As such they feel that service must always come first before self and the clergy are especially bound to this rule.

Set in the 1950's this idea of appropriate behaviour, especially in women, is central to this book. When Helena Napier becomes a neighbour of Mildred, Mildred is shocked by Helena's lack of domesticity and the fact that that Helena has a career of her own rather than merely being supportive of her husband in his. Also when it is suggested that Mildred could become a tenant at the vicarage she points out that it would be inappropriate for an unmarried woman to move into a house that contains an unmarried man even if he is a pastor. Another of Mildred's rules is that she is always dressed appropriately in the company of a man.

This book is on the '1001 books before you die' list and if it had not been then I would probably never have picked it up. Whilst I'm glad that I've read it, I don't feel that it will probably live long in the memory. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Sep 2, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (11 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
Porte, SabineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Smith, Alexander McCallIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Uras, ElifTranslatorsecondary 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."
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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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

Legacy Library: Barbara Pym

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