Excellent Women by Barbara Pym @ViragoBooks #BarbaraPym #ExcellentWomen #TheClqrt

Virago Modern Classics Designer Collection

About the Book

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.’ As such, she often gets herself embroiled in other people’s lives – especially those of her glamourous new neighbours, the Napiers, whose marriage seems to be on the rocks. One cannot take sides in these matters, though it is tricky, especially as Mildred, teetering on the edge of spinsterhood, has a soft spot for dashing young Rockingham Napier. This is Barbara Pym’s world at its funniest and most touching.

My Thoughts

Attracted by the beautiful Virago Modern Classics Designer Edition, with an Orla Kiely print cover, this pretty book sat on my shelf for a while before a group of wonderful reader friends over on Instagram agreed to read this one together. Some will know I have recently started a new job and have been very tired, consequently my reading has hugely reduced. Little did I know that Barbara Pym would be just the tonic!

A quaint read, where if the truth be told, very little happens, Mildred goes about her middle class, genteel existence, she has friends linked to the church community, she works part time and attends mass and helps with church run events. A new couple move into her house with whom she shares a bathroom, which is an absolute point of contention for Mildred, she becomes embroiled in their lives, which are remarkably different to hers.

As a group of readers we agreed that we liked Mildred, she was a most endearing woman going about her life in post war London. Limited by her gender and expectations of women, and behaving exactly as an excellent woman should of that time and in singledom. She observes the lives of others, in a largely non judgemental way, she is accommodating and always willing to conform to expectations of her, at times this seemed she was being taken for granted, but she was so obliging and relaxed that it was hard to feel cross on her behalf. She got pleasure from all social encounters, so even when doing for others she seemed to be enjoying the moment.

A light and gentle read, easy to pick up and very easy to follow, this was a great read for a time when my mind was tired and my concentration poor. I enjoyed it immensely and it was a lovely book to read with a lovely group of friends!

About the Author

Barbara Pym (1913-1980) is best known for her satirical novels portraying English middle-class society. A graduate of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, Pym published the first of her nine novels, Some Tame Gazelle, in 1950, followed by five more books. Despite this early success and continuing popularity, Pym went unpublished from 1963 to 1977. Her work was rediscovered after a famous article in the Times Literary Supplement in which Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin nominated Pym as the most underrated writer of the century. Her comeback novel, Quartet in Autumn, was nominated for the Booker Prize. Barbara Pym died three years later.

6 thoughts on “Excellent Women by Barbara Pym @ViragoBooks #BarbaraPym #ExcellentWomen #TheClqrt

  1. I was a bit obsessed with Barbara Pym for a time as a teenager, despite having no idea what a curate was – they tend to appear in her books! – and I loved the bygone era I was reading about – it seemed a nicer time. Elizabeth Jane Howard was another read from then. I was much more open minded about what I read as a teenager – maybe because I wasn’t guided by reviews and blogs! And I lived on the Isle of Mull so I probably didn’t have access to as wide a selection of books as someone who lived in a city. I was still forming my taste I guess. I do love this edition too; it looks gorgeous. I really should reread her – I have a copy of Crampton Hodnet (if that’s it’s name!) It’s somewhere…


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