Excellent Women

Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym

Mildred Lathbury is 32 and unmarried, which appears to render her an elderly old maid in English society.  (She keeps sounding older than she actually is.)  Mildred likes her quiet life helping in the parish and taking tea with friends, and while she would like to marry, she doesn't want to marry any of the actual men of her acquaintance.  The quiet little neighborhood gets a bit shook up when a married couple move in and become Mildred's upstairs neighbors, and a pretty young widow takes lodgings in the rector's attic.  Everybody wants Mildred's advice or help or energy.  Why not move in with her or expect her to pack all the furniture?  Surely she has nothing better to do...

Amy at Book Musings said the other day that Barbara Pym novels have "some sly observational humor that's crushed under the weight of a little too much depressing postwar English ennui."  Which is the PERFECT thing to say about Barbara Pym.  I've now tried her twice and have come to the conclusion that, as much as I should theoretically like her, I just do not.  I heard that Excellent Women was an early novel and a very funny comedy.  It was OK, and I read the whole thing, but my final conclusion has to be...meh.

I liked Mildred and her stubborn refusal to live down to everyone's expectations that she pine after any single man around.  I liked that it was a novel that didn't have a romance as its focus.  But it didn't seem all that funny to me.  Witty and mildly amusing, yes, but not the "high comedy" it is billed to be.


  1. Lord, I so agree. In theory Excellent Women should be a good read for me -- I like wry observational humor! -- but it just seemed dreary. I'm going to try again, with one of her other books, because one of my loveliest friends adores Barbara Pym, but my hopes aren't high.

  2. Good luck, but I have to tell you that Excellent Women was way more enjoyable than the other one I tried a few years ago. :P

  3. I read a book by Susan Hill called Howard's End Is On The Landing, in which she says that Barbara Pym is either your cup of tea or she isn't.

    After I read Excellent Women, I wanted it to be my cup of tea, because it is so well-done, but in the end I've never had any desire to read another one. It just wasn't as funny as I wanted it to be.

  4. That sounds about right. I haven't wanted to read the Hill book but maybe it's not all bad. ;)


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