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Excellent Women

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  3,879 ratings  ·  568 reviews
An unqualifiedly great novel from the writer most likely to be compared to Jane Austen, this is a very funny, perfectly written book that can rival any other in its ability to capture the essence of its characters on the page. Mildred Lathbury, the narrator of Pym's excellent book is a never-married woman in her 30s--which in 1950s England makes her a nearly-confirmed spin ...more
256 pages
Published 1980 by Harpercollins Publisher (first published 1952)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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April
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
...more
Kathryn
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!!!
Eve
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 well...in the sense that not all women need to be married to
...more
Jane
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
...more
Rebecca
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
Jennifer
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
Paula
Jul 19, 2008 Paula rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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 give you glimpses of humanity so close to us that we will smile in re ...more
Lynda
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
Mister Jones
May 19, 2008 Mister Jones rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Jonfaith
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
Amélie
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
...more
Sarah
Mar 13, 2012 Sarah rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jamie
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
...more
Sterlingcindysu
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
Tony
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
...more
Shannon Reed
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
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
Sps
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
...more
Rachel
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
...more
Beth Bonini
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
Christopher H.
This snappy wonderful little novel was my first exposure to the writing of Barbara Pym, and it won't be my last! The novel's protagonist, Mildred Lathbury, is a spinterish woman in 1950s Britain with feelings - real feelings. She wants to 'do the right thing' and make every one around her feel good; sometimes at the expense of her own feelings and needs. This novel is Austenesque in style and prose and devilishly funny at the same time. Once you start reading this little gem you cannot help but ...more
Vale
Non riusciamo mai ad evitare di analizzare i gesti di chi non nutre alcun interesse per noi, nella vana speranza di scoprire che forse, dopotutto, ne abbiano almeno un poco.

Romanzo grazioso, dalla prosa sobria e con personaggi vivi, delineati magistralmente. Purtroppo la storia non mi è piaciuta. La vita delle "donne eccellenti" quelle che in Italia chiamiamo le "perpetue" ha poco a che fare con me. Eppure, c'è un senso di poesia nella vita sottile di queste donne che vorrebbero piacere a tutti,
...more
Alison
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
...more
pinknantucket
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
...more
Leslie
Somehow I got it into my head that I had to get my paws on some Barbara Pym. No doubt you Goodreads geeks are the cause of that. Well Excellent Women was the only Pym my library had so into the bookbag it went. I get her home and read, read, read my heart out. I liked the characters. Some of them I even liked to dislike. I loved the witty but not self-consciencely witty prose. Elegant turn of phrase, very classy and delightfully British. ( There's an awful lot of tea being served. I suspect ther ...more
Nancy
Mildred Lathbury, an unmarried thirty-something and one of the excellent women referred to in the title, lives alone in the top flat of her building, which also houses several offices and a second flat below hers whose occupants she shares a bathroom with. The flat has been empty, but there are now new neighbors, the rather exotic Napiers.

Helena Napier is just back from Africa, where she had been doing fieldwork on matrilineal kin-groups. Helena is an anthropologist. She is not an excellent woma
...more
Varsha
‘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
...more
Frank
Interesting, although not quite as fascinating as some of the write-ups of this 'unjustly neglected' writer had led me to expect. What's mainly lacking is narrative tension or drive, anything in the way of plot, basically. People drift along, without the main character doing much other than provide a shoulder to cry on. But then, since this is more or less the theme of the book, maybe it's not quite fair to complain about that.

It also reads like a trivialized, modern day version of Jane Austen -
...more
Stuart Aken
I read the Folio Society edition of this novel, illustrated rather charmingly and with considerable insight, by Debra McFarlane. There’s something essentially apt about reading a book from the early 50s in the form of a hardback with appropriate plates. Set in the period just following World War II, and written in the first person by one of the ‘excellent women’ of the title, it should really be entirely of its time. The simple brilliance of the writing, the wonderful characterisation and the ge ...more
Judy
It was my good luck to discover this gem of a book in the most unlikely place: a small car wash store! The title and cover drew my attention, and I bought the book on a lark. I loved every page, especially watching protagonist Mildred Lathbury's perceptions of her new and more worldly neighbors, of the church curate, and of her self-perception as one of the "excellent women" whose lives as single women are, according to the married people around her, supposed to revolve around doing good for oth ...more
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500 Great Books B...: Excellent Women - Barbara Pym 1 7 Jul 22, 2014 04:35PM  
Penguin Classics ...: Excellent Women 11 34 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
...more
More about Barbara Pym...
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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.” 40 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.” 29 likes
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