Barbara Pym: Excellent Women

No wonder Barbara Pym appreciated Austen

The same kind of seemingly unassuming writing, combining gentility (and apparent gentleness) with acute, razorsharp, detached observation of both society and its individual constituents, and a very subtle sense of humour.  Pym, like Austen, is far from being a revolutionary, but she notes the state of the world in which she lives and comments on it with wry humour and the self-deprecation only possessed by those who are truly beyond the need of advertising themselves.  And, of course, like all great writing (Austen’s included), Pym’s feels relevant and — to use a word much bandied about in connection with this particular buddy read — “relatable” long after first having been published, in a world that (at first blush) seems to have undergone quite a number of drastic turns since.

Like Austen’s, Pym’s writing abounds with memorable quotes — in lieu of pausing every other minute to post yet another one while I was reading / listening to the book, let me just share this:

“‘You could consider marrying an excellent woman?’ I asked in amazement. ‘But they are not for marrying.’

‘You’re surely not suggesting that they are for the other things?’ he said, smiling.

That had certainly not occurred to me and I was annoyed to find myself embarrassed.

‘They are for being unmarried,’ I said, ‘and by that I mean a positive rather than a negative state.'”

Preach it, Mildred — and Barbara, of course.


Status Updates and Buddy Read Announcement:
60 of 493 Minutes
114 of 288 Pages
Buddy Read Announcement


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Barbara Pym: Excellent Women — Reading Status Update: 114 of 288 Pages

“… Curried whale, goodness, you wouldn’t feel like having that for tea, would you?  I had an argument about it the other day with Protheroe — you know how strictly she keeps Lent and all that sort of nonsense — well, there she was eating whale meat thinking it was fish!”

“Well, isn’t it?”

“No, of course it isn’t.  The whale is a mammal,” said Dora in a loud truculent tone.  “So you see it can hardly count as fish.”

Hah.  Take that, Mr. Melville …


Review, Other Status Update, and Buddy Read Announcement:
* Review
* Status Update: 60 of 493 Minutes
* Buddy Read Announcement


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Barbara Pym: Excellent Women — Reading Status Update: 60 of 493 Minutes

Buddy read with Moonlight Reader, Murder By Death, BrokenTune, Lillelara, The Better To See You My Dear, Person of Interest, Peregrinations, Locus Amoenus: All By My Shelf, and Mike Finn.

And so far, I’m loving it!


Review, Other Status Update, and Buddy Read Announcement:
* Review
* Status Update: 114 of 288 Pages
* Buddy Read Announcement


Original post:

Barbara Pym: Excellent Women — Proposed Buddy Read

Reblogged from: Moonlight Snow

Excellent Women - Barbara Pym

Themis-Athena, Murder By Death & I are planning a Buddy Read of Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women to tentatively begin on Friday, January 25.

Plot summary: 

Excellent Women is one of Barbara Pym’s richest and most amusing high comedies. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman’s 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 neighbors–anthropologist Helena Napier and her handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door–the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.

Barbara Pym was born in 1913 and died of breast cancer in 1980 and Excellent Women was originally published in 1952.

According to Wikipedia:

“several strong themes link the works in the Pym canon, which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, and comedies of manners, studying the social activities connected with the Anglican church (Anglo-Catholic parishes in particular.) (Pym attended several churches during her lifetime, including St Michael and All Angels, Barnes, where she served on the Parish Church Council.)

Pym closely examines many aspects of women’s and men’s relations, including unrequited feelings of women for men, based on her own experience. Pym was also one of the first popular novelists to write sympathetically about unambiguously gay characters (most notably in A Glass of Blessings).  She portrayed the layers of community and figures in the church seen through church functions. The dialogue is often deeply ironic. A tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died.”

In 2013, The Telegraph published an interesting piece for Pym’s centenary, which can be found here.

If any of this sounds interesting, feel free to join us!


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