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Excellent Women

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,981 Ratings  ·  706 Reviews
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 han ...more
Paperback, (Penguin Classics), 231 pages
Published December 26th 2006 by Penguin Classics (first published 1952)
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Ange I agree with your assessment, having read both recently. A better read than both of these is "Jane and Prudence" which I have just finished, and which…moreI agree with your assessment, having read both recently. A better read than both of these is "Jane and Prudence" which I have just finished, and which has a slightly more modern tone.(less)
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May 09, 2009 April rated it really liked it
Aside from a few differences--living in the 1950s, being British, not being a teacher, being actively involved in church--Mildred Lathbury could easily be me. She's in her early 30s, she's unmarried, people keep telling her about their problems and expecting her to fix them, men think she's in love with them just because she's single, and she prefers living by herself because someone else would just mess everything up.

And here's another thing that I noticed: her friends and neighbors would often
Emer (ALittleHaze)
Apr 16, 2016 Emer (ALittleHaze) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4stars
“Virtue is an excellent thing and we should all strive after it, but it can sometimes be a little depressing.”

Excellent Women was an absolute delight to read! It tells the story of Mildred Lathbury who is described as being a spinster…. IN HER THIRTIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh the cheek….. I know I KNOW!!!!…. I do not appreciate the term spinster AT ALL but this was written and is set in the 1950s so I just let that all go and lost myself in the story… and when I say lost myself in the story I really
Stick on the kettle, put up your feet and settle into your favourite armchair with this cosy, post-WW II English novel. Barbara Pym’s world is one of brown-clad spinsters, nuns on bicycles and vicars who live with their sisters. The foreword in my beautiful Virago Modern Classics edition was written by Alexander McCall Smith, and I now see where he got much of his inspiration for his 44 Scotland Street series.

The book is the literary equivalent of an English (pre-war) village with its small conf
Apr 27, 2013 Jane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had such high hopes that I would love this book, and I did, so very much.

So many people had said that it was so good, that it was Barbara Pym’s best book, and when I realised that it was the story of a spinster, in her thirties in the fifties, my mind went spinning back.

Not to the fifties – I’m not that old – but to when my mother took me to church as a very small child. We always sat behind a row of elderly ladies, and I spent a long time looking at their backs and hats during dull sermons an
Jul 30, 2014 Eve rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, read-2009
Although this wasn't a dashing romantic tale like Jane Eyre or even Pride and Prejudice I thought it was great. It was slow in some areas, but I still found it rich and thrilling.

Everyday life and excursions are related with humor and depth. Church gossip and those "delicate" marital concerns that can arise when laundry is aired publicly, were so hilarious to watch as an outsider along with the protagonist. I found it a bit feminist as the sense that not all women need to be married to
Dec 17, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was ok
I am honestly not sure what to make of this book. I initially discovered this book (and author) through a random Amazon-crawl, where I assume it was recommended to me based on some of my other highly-rated books. I vaguely remember reading that Excellent Women was satirical, funny, biting, etc., and there were several comparisons to Jane Austen. I don't share the crush that virtually all well-educated white girls seem to have for Jane Austen (despite being a well-educated white girl myself), but ...more
Jan 26, 2009 Kathryn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
A most excellent book! Full of lots of humor and thoughtfulness--I agree that it's a bit Jane Austen-esque. However, I am not sure that the overall theme is quite so optimistic as Austen's works. I would be very interested to hear from others who have read this book to find out what they think. Did Mildred find a fulfilling life? What was Pym's view of "excellent women"--were they neglected victims or silent heroes? I'm looking forward to reading more of Pym's work. Highly recommended!!!
Dec 05, 2015 Paula rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of Literature, and Romance
Recommended to Paula by: A Book Store Owner who knew of my love for Jane Austen
Shelves: favorite-books
Warm, witty and wonderful. Pym gives us glimpses of human nature with all its flaws, but with such sympathy that we cannot help but love her characters. The best novels help us to develop our empathy, or what Eliot called "fellow-feeling," toward mankind. Such books teach us to be as forgiving of the flaws of the characters as we are of our own flaws, and so learn empathy toward real people. This is one of those rare books. It presents glimpses of humanity so close to us that we will smile in re ...more
Dec 16, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing
This is my first Barbara Pym book, but it definitely won't be my last! Her gentle humor suffuses the book, and the characters spring to life in just a phrase or two. What seems at first a light, subtle, tongue-in-cheek storyline is actually incredibly insightful and the story stays with you long after you finish reading. The characters could very well be my next door neighbors – each and every one. Amusing, charming, entertaining, endearing, interesting, soft-spoken, no gimmicks – all of which t ...more
May 26, 2014 Lynda rated it really liked it
A typically chatty tale from Barbara Pym. Lives of quiet desperation is always a phrase that swims around in my mind when I read her novels. Those bedsit spinsters eating tins of baked beans or lettuce and a bit of tomato with bread and butter for tea. But perhaps Mildred Lathbury is something more than that for though she does live her life vicariously in the service of others Pym allow her to have rather a good time in the process, she is literally wined and dined by all the male protagonists ...more
Jan 25, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - my first Barbara Pym. Mildred Lathbury is an "excellent woman" - 30's, single, capable, involved in the church, living alone in post war London. As such, she is taken for granted on every page. Do you need someone to work a jumble sale? Are you having a fight with your husband and need someone to write a note to him? Did you move out of the house and you need someone to meet and manage the moving company? Do you have a chicken at home and need someone to cook it? ...more
Mar 13, 2012 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Sarah by: Casey Kinson
This book is the most British thing to ever happen! I can just see Mildred's good manners and wry narration in a BBC series...

I don't usually go in for comedy-of-manners, but this was just so well done. Our little, daily sorrows and triumphs can be far more moving than any epic romance. Pym's observations are as poignant as they are funny.

Mildred Lathbury probably wouldn't approve of me, but that's alright! I adore her.
Laurie Glassel
Apr 23, 2016 Laurie Glassel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely loved this book!!
Sep 20, 2014 Amélie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grande-bretagne, 2014
Je pense que, dans une autre vie, j'étais certainement une vieille fille anglaise. Je trouve beaucoup de réconfort dans les romans qui sont tranquilles & domestiques, qui s'attardent au quotidien & en décrivent les revirements subtils. Leur reconnaissent une importance, aussi.

Mais si Excellent Women correspond bien à cette description, on se rend compte assez tôt que Barbara Pym ne cherche pas à réconforter la lectrice.

Nous sommes au début des années cinquante, à Londres, & les exce
Jamie Collins
Jul 22, 2014 Jamie Collins rated it liked it
A short contemporary novel about the everyday life of a single woman of a certain age living in London in the 1950's. Like the other “excellent women” she knows, Mildred keeps herself busy with charity work and church raffles. Her acquaintances freely impose on her while presuming that she’s on the lookout for a husband.

I liked the book. It’s described as "Austenesque", and is supposed to be Pym's wittiest novel, but while it is sometimes amusing, it's far from the comedy of manners I was expect
Mar 18, 2012 Sterlingcindysu rated it it was amazing
I gave it 5 stars because it was a good story and had lots to think about, from human nature (why does everyone assume an unmarried woman loves to do scutwork? to British terms "pingpong bats" haha to changes in the class system in England after WWII to descriptions of "uninteresting food".) To expound on just one, as I've gotten older, I think it's true that the more you do for others, they more they take you for granted, they're not appreciative. I gave it an extra .5 star for doing all that i ...more
Feb 24, 2012 Tony rated it it was amazing
EXCELLENT WOMEN. (1952). Barbara Pym. *****.
While browsing the Penguin Classics list of new publications, I saw several entrys by an author I hadn’t read or even heard of. I’m always willing to take a chance with one of Penguin’s publications in their Classics series. This was one on the list, and I was blown over by my “discovery.” Ms. Pym (1913-1980) was best known for her series of novels about the British middle class. She published her first novel in 1950, followed by five more novels. The
Sep 06, 2012 Jonfaith rated it really liked it
This series of set pieces oozes austerity. Anglicans endure the post-war shortages with a sober humor and allow their imaginations to whimsy while mantaining hopes for the future. The protagonist shuffles between a small circle of characters, sips a great deal of tea, ponders the limits of her education, her wit, and her looks. There are disputes and relationships dissolve, but this isn't an Iris Murdoch parlor exercise. Feelings may blush and pale. There are no scars here. That was the war, dar ...more
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I have read over half of this book, and find no "biting satire." There's no "high comedy" here, even in contrast to "low" (ie vulgar) comedy. Also no tension, no direction, no plot. The only thing approaching irony is that the main character works for a charity that helps "decayed gentlewomen" without realising for a moment that she is one herself. At first I thought this would be part of the plot (I actually thought there would be one) and we would get an insider's look at these women's problem ...more
Aug 06, 2014 Alison rated it it was amazing
Considered one of the most underrated British authors of the 20th Century, Barbara Pym comes closer to being a "modern Jane Austen" than anyone else I've encountered. Witty and insightful, Pym has the same firm grip as Austen on human nature and all of its hilarious ridiculousness. The difference, however, as was pointed out to me, is that Austen felt matrimony worth pursuing whereas Pym is not so sure.
The protagonist, Mildred, is an "excellent woman" who bears her friends' burdens, washes thei
Shannon Reed
Apr 23, 2007 Shannon Reed rated it really liked it
Shelves: readit
I deeply enjoyed this book, but it also hit too close to home. I just ended a relationship with someone who is studying to be a minister, and this novel is about a clergyman's daughter (as I am) who spends much of her time in her church (as I do) and lives vicariously through others' relationships. Everyone expects her to marry the vicar. There is a great deal of subtle, pointed wit about the clergy and the church, and about single women and their propensity to fall in love with clergymen. So... ...more
Mister Jones
May 19, 2008 Mister Jones rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: euthanized literary derelicts
Recommended to Mister Jones by: a creative writing prof who thought it was a great work
Holy Man of Jane Austen's pet terrier!

I read this one a few years ago for a grad school course, and for some aberrant reason, I liked it. Now, however, reading this again, I think I can unequivocally state it was B-O-R-I-N-G.

Mildred Lathbury is this self-conscious noisy ass spinster who devotes a great deal of her time with church functions and musing about herself and others in her circle of acquaintances and friends. After about page 50, I kept wondering if the pace of the book was going to p
Feb 29, 2016 Mo rated it really liked it
I never understood the difference between Roman Catholics and these people. What the heck religion were they?

Mary Ronan Drew
Apr 23, 2013 Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing
The Excellent Women of Barbara Pym's novel of that name are the middle-aged Church of England spinsters who make up the altar guild, who run the Christmas bazaar and the summer fete, and who dote on young curates. They line up speakers for the Episcopal Church Women lectures (or the English equivalent) and they lead the Girl Scout troops. Without them the church of the 1950s, when this book was published, would not run smoothly.

Belinda and Harriet of Some Tame Gazelle are typical of the excellen
I picked up this book because it had an attractive cover and also because in the front Philip Larkin is quoted as saying "I'd sooner read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen'. Jilly Cooper says her books make her 'roar with laughter'. I think we can see where this going, can't we?

It's a well written book with many astute observations and it's not terrible or anything, it just wasn't my cup of tea. (Incidentally there is a lot of tea-drinking in the book; I wonder if there is some kind of in
May 01, 2010 Sps rated it liked it
Wry. Some of the same English farcical pleasures as Connie Willis and Iris Murdoch, though less funny, less philosophical. Despite not being a mystery, the period and the preoccupation with manners and tea and curates might please Miss Marple fans.

NYT commenter:

"Life’s Little Events

Barbara Pym’s works will never leave my household, at least not unless I’m dragged out with them, still clutching the frayed and faded pages. These books matter to me because they are life under the microscope, where
Mar 31, 2009 Rachel rated it liked it
I didn't like Excellent Women quite as much as I enjoyed Quartet in Autumn, but I'd still heartily recommend it. Barbara Pym is becoming like a friend to me. She writes very well--and with wonderful wit and originality.

Excellent Women tells the story of Mildred, a single woman in her 30s who spends a great deal of time and energy absorbing and working to solve the problems of those around her. She is one of those "excellent women" whom others seem keen to dump their burdens on--yet Mildred seems
Aug 06, 2014 Versha rated it really liked it
‘Excellent women’ by Barbara Pym was something fresh, I really enjoyed reading this sweet-satirical novel with crisp and clear writing. The story is about everyday-life of Mildred Lathbury (protagonist and narrator) a 30 year old spinster.
As the title suggests she is an “Excellent Women” that is to say that.. she is single, too good, too friendly, too obliging, also she is one of those who will never even think of hurting someone. Indulging herself in others problems like her own, feeling gui
Beth Bonini
Oct 20, 2010 Beth Bonini rated it liked it
Again, I want to give this novel a 3 1/2 -- but for the exact opposite reasons that I gave that rating to Lorrie Moore. I read this novel and Moore's A Gate at the Stairs back-to-back, and they couldn't be more different. Moore's novel is so very contemporary that I doubt it will still be read in 10 years; on the other hand, Pym's novel -- while precisely placed in slightly shabby middle-class post-War London -- has a timeless quality to it. I enjoyed it, but I found it very easy to put down. Yo ...more
Oct 10, 2015 Judy rated it it was amazing
It was my good luck to discover this gem of a book in the most unlikely place: a car wash store! I bought the book on a lark and loved every page, especially watching protagonist Mildred Lathbury's perceptions of her new and more worldly neighbors, of the church curate, and of her wry awareness as one of the "excellent women" whose lives as single women are supposed to revolve around doing good for others with "fuller" lives.

The first scene of the book sets the tone:

"Ah, you ladies! Always on
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500 Great Books B...: Excellent Women - Barbara Pym 1 10 Jul 22, 2014 04:35PM  
Penguin Classics ...: Excellent Women 11 38 May 06, 2013 08:41AM  
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After studying English at St Hilda's College, Oxford, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II.

The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most underrated writer of the century. Pym and Larkin had kept up a private correspondence over a period o
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“I realised that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced.” 57 likes
“Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thought, as I watched Miss Statham filling the heavy teapot. Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'Do we need tea? she echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury...' She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind. I mumbled something about making a joke and that of course one needed tea always, at every hour of the day or night.” 35 likes
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