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Excellent Women

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  6,391 Ratings  ·  956 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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Shelley Since no one responded to my question, I had to read both books. The answer is that Some Tame Gazelle, which was written first, is not as interesting…moreSince no one responded to my question, I had to read both books. The answer is that Some Tame Gazelle, which was written first, is not as interesting as Excellent Women, which has a more well-developed plot and shows some needed contrast between the characters. The first book seems like a first draft of the later book, which I much preferred. (less)
Beth This is a late reply, but I just read Quartet in Autumn and am currently reading Excellent Women -- I really liked Quartet in Autumn but was baffled…moreThis is a late reply, but I just read Quartet in Autumn and am currently reading Excellent Women -- I really liked Quartet in Autumn but was baffled by reviewers saying it is a funny book. It is very well written and very engaging, but it is quite sad. Not overwhelmingly bleak, but tinged throughout with sadness. And I am a big fan of British humor, so it was even more baffling- it didn't seem like it was just humor Americans wouldn't get. Excellent Women, on the other hand, is very funny, much to my relief! And much lighter. I'd give both five stars, but for different reasons. (less)
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Community Reviews

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April
May 13, 2008 April rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Fabian
Mar 06, 2015 Fabian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With a sweetness reminiscent of Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence," "Excellent Women" is proof, not solely of female excellence, but of the overall human goodness. Nothing short of miraculous, this novel about a wallflower who knows just how shitty men can often treat their counterparts, and how with much ease the ill treatment is endured, is both a classic and a must! I have never read a more compassionate or sympathetic voice, like that of our heroine's. Also, the quantity of tea drunk by ...more
Kelly
This review first appeared on my blog Shoulda Coulda Woulda Books.

Awhile ago, I asked for recommendations for books that take place in small villages. I'd just done a re-read of Emma and followed that up with An Accomplished Woman, and I was really enjoying the scale of the worlds and the consequent depth of observation that this allowed for- which is why I asked for more. One that came up a couple of times but hadn't made it to the top yet was Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. I wish that I had l
...more
Kim Kaso
Aug 08, 2015 Kim Kaso rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am re-reading Barbara Pym's books this summer to lift my spirits as I recover from physical injury. I find I can only take so much emotional stress before I retreat to her closely observed lives full of the quotidian routines of the women who are the backbone of the Anglican Church. Flower arranging, knitting, polishing church brasses, it is all part of the detail of their quiet lives as loss of love is accepted with resignation, spinsters find a way of "making do" on limited budgets, and the ...more
Jane
Feb 28, 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
...more
·Karen·
I fear I may have been a little severe in my assessment of Ms Pym so, as I'm sure her legions of fans will be delighted to hear, I sat myself out on the terrace yesterday afternoon and read this one straight through, cover to cover, in 5 hours.
Quartet in Autumn was driech: dull sad people leading sad dull lives. This one was at least subtly humorous, but, weirdly enough, hardly less depressing for a' that.

The humour

In post-WW2 Britain you still have to register with the butcher, and (pre-Elizabe
...more
Eve
Apr 07, 2009 Eve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 well...in the sense that not all women need to be married to
...more
Rebecca
Dec 12, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Helle
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
...more
Chrissie
I did not like this book. I found it a total bore from start to finish. I didn't laugh once. It is supposed to have satirical humor. I found no humor at all.

The book is about a single woman, Mildred Lathbury. She is in her thirties. She is living in London near Victoria Station in the years following the Second World War. History is scarcely referred to other than mention of food rationing, a lack of commodities and a bombed building or two. Her days consist of eating - meals and tea - over and
...more
Magrat Ajostiernos
Mildred me ha conquistado! :D
Kathryn
Oct 24, 2008 Kathryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!!!
Paula
Jul 19, 2008 Paula rated it it was amazing  ·  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 presents glimpses of humanity so close to us that we will smile in re ...more
Katie Lumsden
May 14, 2016 Katie Lumsden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this. It's like Jane Austen but set in the 1950s - very witty, but at times tinged with sadness.
Claire Fuller
Nov 10, 2016 Claire Fuller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2016
Why didn't any of you shout louder about reading Barbara Pym? I can't believe I'm nearly 50 and I've only just got round to reading her, because everything was perfect and lovely and wonderful about this book. So beautifully English. An 'ordinary' single woman, Mildred, in the 1950s, goes to church, goes on holiday with her old school friend, drinks an awful lot of tea, helps out in a charity for gentlewomen who have fallen on hard times, has another cup of tea with some slightly stale cake, den ...more
Carol
Apr 01, 2015 Carol rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jennifer
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
Lynda
May 25, 2014 Lynda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jonfaith
Sep 18, 2011 Jonfaith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sarah
May 24, 2011 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Pink
Apr 05, 2017 Pink rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun! A mid 20th century English novel, typical of the best female authors of the time. I don't read enough of these.
Tony
Feb 24, 2012 Tony rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kathleen
Mar 19, 2017 Kathleen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: women-writers
Ooh --I like Barbara Pym! Her writing style is deceptively simple, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Mildred is an unattached woman of a certain age, and in the society of this time and place, the role of such excellent women seems to be to make themselves available for everyone else. In the course of her hum-drum life being upset by the appearance of some volatile newcomers to the neighborhood, Mildred begins to question society's expectations.

“Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thou
...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
Katerina
В любой непонятной ситуации заваривай чай (но почему никто не предупредил, что финал такой неудовлетворительный?!)
Rachel M
The title "Excellent Women" refers to women whom men take for granted. They are the "support staff" in the world who take care of the men they "serve" who have "important work to do." Mildred Lathbury, the heroine in this book, works in a vicarage and is one of the "excellent women" referred to in Pym's title. She is a "spinster" in her early 30s . She's smart - there are numerous literary references made by the character, including a veiled reference to Gertrude Stein, which were quite clever ( ...more
verbava
Nov 21, 2016 verbava rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
чудовою жінкою бути непросто: усі думають, що в тебе більше роботи нема, крім як розбиратися з їхніми проблемами. бездітна, незаміжня, не прив'язана за няню для когось із родичів, а за компанію ще й із достатньо хорошими манерами, щоб не посилати до дідька у відповідь на господарські вказівки, ледве замасковані під прохання про допомогу, - і ти, вважай, пропала. якщо жінка не обслуговує нікого конкретного, усі довкола раді будуть допомогти їй із реалізацією цієї, поза сумнівом, ключової потреби ...more
Jana
Oct 05, 2016 Jana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was 100% enjoyable escapist reading. I loved that instead of thinking about the dreaded politics that I/we am/are currently awash in, I could instead stress about Mildred's plight! Who are these new neighbors moving in below her? Who will she end up marrying? or better yet....must she even get married?

Personally, I was rooting for Everard Bone. I mean who wouldn't with a name like that?

Great fun.

Here's her description of Julian, one of the possible love interests:
Women didn't tend to fuss
...more
Amélie
Sep 19, 2014 Amélie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Sterlingcindysu
Aug 15, 2010 Sterlingcindysu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 18 -27 and Whole Book 35 18 May 29, 2017 05:40PM  
Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 10 -17 31 12 Apr 05, 2017 07:22AM  
Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 1 -9 20 18 Mar 30, 2017 12:32PM  
Shelfari 1001 group: 10. Review and Rating 14 24 Dec 27, 2016 06:17AM  
Shelfari 1001 group: 8. End of the novel. 8 19 Dec 27, 2016 05:38AM  
Shelfari 1001 group: 6. Anthropologists 6 12 Dec 27, 2016 05:36AM  
Shelfari 1001 group: 3. Women and Work 5 11 Dec 27, 2016 05:33AM  
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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
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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.” 61 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.” 39 likes
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