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Excellent Women (Penguin Classics) by…

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

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

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2,5601175,045 (3.99)1 / 628
"Excellent Women" is one of Barbara Pyms richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergymans daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those excellent women, the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighborsanthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next doorthe novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.… (more)
Title:Excellent Women (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Barbara Pym (Author)
Other authors:A. N. Wilson (Introduction)
Info:Penguin Classics (2006), Edition: Reprint, 256 pages
Collections:Your library

Work Information

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym (1952)

  1. 71
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (carlym)
  2. 61
    Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner (Miels)
    Miels: Similar themes and a the same lovely but understated quality to the writing. Both stories are told with wry humor. Both stories have an underlying sadness. (Though Brookner's book tends more to the melancholy side.)
  3. 40
    Commonplace by Christina Rossetti (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Considers the plight of spinsters
  4. 30
    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (Eat_Read_Knit)
  5. 00
    Indelicacy by Amina Cain (potenza)
    potenza: As the the story progressed, I started to hear Barbara Pym. Something of similar sensibility on self and relationships and humor.
  6. 00
    Bird Cottage by Eva Meijer (potenza)
    potenza: Similarly independent protagonist, period, and setting. (Any Barbara Pym is a companion to Bird Cottage.)
  7. 00
    The Odd Women by George Gissing (potenza)
    potenza: Vastly different period and style, yet a similar thematic demographic
  8. 00
    An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden (BeckyJP)
  9. 00
    Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner (carlym)
  10. 00
    Lady on the Burning Deck by Catherine Heath (KayCliff)
  11. 00
    Old Mrs. Camelot by Emery Bonett (MissWoodhouse1816)

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 Virago Modern Classics: Barbara Pym Centenary: Excellent Women41 unread / 41Robertgreaves, March 2013

» See also 628 mentions

English (114)  Tagalog (1)  French (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (117)
Showing 1-5 of 114 (next | show all)
The Queen of England died in the north-too-distant past, and I came across Barbara Pym in one of the articles I read about her life and, I suppose, English society in general. This book is said to be an updated Austen type comedy of manners. Given the setting (post WWII England) that is a bit of a stretch, but I do understand the comparison.

The book centers on a slice of the life of Mildred Lathbury, one of the title's 'excellent women' who are single and often overlooked for the important role they play in society. Mildred lives in a flat with neighbors Julian and Winifred Malory, and we are quickly introduced to the Napiers, new neighbors who become entwined in Mildred's life. We have access to Mildred's musings, so come to know her well.

The book is supposed to be a comedy of manners, but I did not find much amusing about it. I suppose that is because I live in such a different time, when single women often live rich and fulfilling lives. But back then, in post WWII England, things were quite different. I'm supposing that the male population was greatly reduced post WWII, and these sorts of stories about single women rang true. I felt that Mildred lived a happy enough life, but not particularly proactive about seeking her own happiness. Given the times, this doesn't seem unusual. But, for me, it's sad. ( )
  peggybr | Nov 30, 2022 |
I was glad that this picked up in atmosphere towards the end. Mildred Lathbury seemed so sad, not really happy with her circumstances. She seemed to perk up as time went by. There were some delightful moments. But this is not one with everything tied up in a bow at the end. ( )
  njcur | Sep 28, 2022 |
10 October, 2017
The truth was, I thought, looking once more at the letter on my desk which could not now be finished tonight, that I was exhausted with bearing other people’s burdens, or burthens as the nobler language of our great hymn-writers put it. Then, too, I had become selfish and set in my ways and would surely be a difficult person to live with. [pp. 232]
I'm not sure how to phrase it, but the more I think about this book and Mildred Lathbury, the more I think I love them.
  best_bunyip | Aug 15, 2022 |
This is a comedy of manners about Mildred, a clergyman's daughter. It is the 1950s, and she is in her 30s and has resigned herself to being a spinster and spending her days working and having tea with her friends, who include a bachelor clergyman and his sister. Her routine is thrown into disarray when a married couple move into the other flat in her building.

The titular "excellent women" are those women who men rely on, but rarely acknowledge, such as wives of academics who write the indexes for their husbands' books, or sisters of clergymen who cook all their meals. Mildred increasingly finds herself being shunted into this role of excellent woman, always making tea for people in times of crisis.

Mostly I found this book to be dull. There isn't much plot to speak of, just a lot of gossipy details of people's relationships. Any feminist bent the book might have is completely ruined by the ending. I consider myself to have a pretty dry wit, but I really didn't find anything very funny. ( )
  Gwendydd | Jul 4, 2022 |
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym is an amusing slice of life story that directs our attention to that group of unmarried women that are considered smart, supportive, and slightly repressed. They are entitled ‘excellent women’ by the men who both rely and ignore them, these are the type of women who populate the committees, who volunteer for charities and, in fact, have much to do with the actual running of both church and community affairs. First published in 1952 this light satiric story about loneliness being bravely borne centres on Mildred Lathbury, a 35-ish spinster who, through her friendship with the vicar and his sister, involves herself in church affairs, as well as becoming engaged with her new neighbours and their friends.

While Mildred is virtuous and intelligent she is alone and quite content to be so, happily involving herself in churchgoing and part-time charity work. However as the story progresses, a number of potential suitors are presented, and the more Mildred tries to remove herself, the more tangled in the affairs of others she becomes. What does become apparent is that Mildred is an excellent social observer and her dry, witty comments bring a sense of playfulness to the book. In the long run Excellent Women could be considered a romantic comedy about a stereotype that perhaps might be happiest if she stays single.

I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and the postwar setting of London in the early 1950s. This was the first Barbara Pym novel that I have read, but I am looking forward to reading more in the future. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | May 22, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 114 (next | show all)
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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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Wikipedia in English


"Excellent Women" is one of Barbara Pyms richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergymans daughter and a mild-mannered spinster in 1950s England. She is one of those excellent women, the smart, supportive, repressed women who men take for granted. As Mildred gets embroiled in the lives of her new neighborsanthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next doorthe novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

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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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