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Excellent Women (1952)

de Barbara Pym

Altres autors: Mira la secció altres autors.

MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaConverses / Mencions
2,4551134,974 (4)1 / 616
"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.… (més)
  1. 71
    Orgull i prejudici de Jane Austen (carlym)
  2. 61
    Hotel du Lac de 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 de Christina Rossetti (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Considers the plight of spinsters
  4. 30
    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day de Winifred Watson (catherinestead)
  5. 00
    Indelicacy de 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 de Eva Meijer (potenza)
    potenza: Similarly independent protagonist, period, and setting. (Any Barbara Pym is a companion to Bird Cottage.)
  7. 00
    The Odd Women de George Gissing (potenza)
    potenza: Vastly different period and style, yet a similar thematic demographic
  8. 00
    An Episode of Sparrows de Rumer Godden (BeckyJP)
  9. 00
    Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman de Sylvia Townsend Warner (carlym)
  10. 00
    Lady on the Burning Deck de Catherine Heath (KayCliff)
  11. 00
    Old Mrs. Camelot de Emery Bonett (MissWoodhouse1816)
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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 |
This was a read for our St. Joseph;s Episcopal Church Book Club in Durham, NC. Because many have reviewed, I only to point out some salient points for me. The book title "excellent women" functions as a motif throughout the book, being mentioned at least 8 or 9 times by various people. In 1952, there were still WW2 many ruins in Britain. A mention of Blackpool weather reminds me of the Illuminations besides the difficult weather for a seaside resort. The book titles starting with "Wild Beasts and their Ways" really do exists although old. Helena's lecture and Mildred's musing while the was talking is the largest chapter in the book. The French ditty (si mea very avaient des ailes) is frequently sung in France. Hymns Ancient & Modern is being discarded in favor of the English Hymnal, although both are influenced by Abglo-Catholicism, the former dates to 1863 and the latter to 1906. All in all, Mildred is a self-effacing person and I realize I can go into that mode. ( )
  vpfluke | Apr 11, 2022 |
I'm not entirely sure what I just read. It's beautifully written, but I'd be hard pressed to outline its plot. Beyond being a social commentary on single women in the 1950's, with a sidebar on the changing morays of post-war Britain, there's not a lot happening.

Mildred is a 30-something spinster, the daughter of a clergyman, living on her own in London and living for her local church. Mildred is quietly wry about her lot in life, while also being something of a doormat; a combination that seems incongruous to me, though that itself might be a reflection of how far we've come: I have the luxury of not only thinking wry thoughts, but expressing them, and choosing not being anybody's doormat.

When the flat beneath hers is let to a 'modern' married couple - the kind that were hastily married during WWII - Mildred's life is sucked into the vortex of their melodrama. Again, something I could not relate to, but this time I couldn't even imagine a set of circumstances where Mildred's experience seems logical. Except one, and it's the one I think Pym was using, though obliquely (by today's standards): Mildred was in love with, or crushing hard on, Rocky. There's plenty of evidence that she was - but there's plenty to point to that shows Mildred's misery at doing Rocky and Helena's bidding as well, and again, that seems incongruous to me. People who are crushing on their neighbours (or whomever) are generally happy to be involved in their crush's life. Mildred is highly moral, but there's no evidence that her misery stems from the moral quagmire of crushing on a married neighbor, rather is feels like a bone deep fatigue with always being considered an "Excellent Woman".

Speaking of "Excellent Women", this sort of feels like Pym's true message; 'Excellent Women' are much admired and relied upon, but rarely loved or appreciated; indeed that being called an Excellent Woman is a rather back-handed compliment. If this was, in fact, Pym's intent, she sort of failed in my opinion. The message is there, yes, but it's subtle; maybe a little too subtle, as it's drowned out by all the drama happening amongst neighbours and friends.

There are a few other things going on during all of this: Julian, the vicar's, surprise romance with an unsuitable widow, Mildred's friend Dora - a bitter old prune in the making, and possibly the most awkward courtship I've ever read happening between Mildred and another character. None of which added any depth to the story for me, nor made any of the characters more sympathetic.

As I said though, the writing was wonderful, and highlights included learning about the true meaning of being a slut ::grin::, and what might be one of the best character names ever: Everard Bone, couple with one of the most hilarious lines I've read in a while (context: a turned down dinner invitation):

Immediately he asked this, I realised that there had been a little nagging worry, an unhappiness, almost, at the back of my mind. Everard Bone and his meat.

Buried amidst the terribly prim and proper setting of this book, this line struck me as inordinately funny, and evidence Pym had a wicked sense of humor. ( )
  murderbydeath | Jan 22, 2022 |
Fortunately Mildred Lathbury understands what is expected of a single clergyman's daughter in 1950s Britain, still recovering from war and shortages. Still, the unwanted requests for help come from all sides, and Mildred cheerfully obliges. As one of those "excellent women" who do the everyday work of the church: the flower arrangements, organizing jumble sales, polishing the brasses, sitting on committees, and making gallons of tea, Mildred is a woman who can be relied on to handle anything. This was a charming story, true to life for the era, highly entertaining and filled with fabulous characters. My favourite Barbara Pym novel that I've read so far. ( )
  VivienneR | Jan 2, 2022 |
This was a reread for me and I loved it just as much the second time. Pym does such a great job of capturing the drama of ordinary life. She also has a subtle sense of humor that I love.

In this novel, Mildred, a 30 something woman living on her own, is drawn in to the marital drama of her neighbors. At the same time, the local clergyman is ensnared in an engagement with a woman who turns out to be unsuitable for his lifestyle. All assume that Mildred is the woman who would be suitable for him.

The plot sounds silly, and maybe it is a bit silly, but I love all the things that Pym makes me think about, even in a quiet novel. 1950s England sounds like such a harsh time, with little joy and much austerity. The food situation itself is funny and horrifying at the same time, with the rationing and sparse availability. And then there's all the single women with so few options after the war killed so many young men. Maybe they enjoy their independence more than they would have enjoyed a marriage? Is a life of quiet contentment and caring for ones neighbors enough? What constitutes a well-lived life?

Glad I took the time to reread this. ( )
  japaul22 | Dec 5, 2021 |
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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Barbara Pymautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Ashizu, KaoriTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Ford, JessieAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Halligan, GeriNarradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Houweling, DjukeTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Kiely, OrlaDissenyador de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
McFarlane, DebraIl·lustradorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Porte, SabineTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Schuman, JackieDissenyador de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Smith, Alexander McCallIntroduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Uras, ElifTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Wilson, A. N.Introduccióautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Winkler, DoraTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
Zulaika, JaimeTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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"Ah, you ladies! Always on the spot when there's something happening!" The voice belonged to Mr Mallet, one of our churchwardens.
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"'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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"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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