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Excellent Women

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  8,472 ratings  ·  1,240 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, 231 pages
Published December 26th 2006 by Penguin Classics (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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Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With a sweetness reminiscent of Edith Wharton's gorgeous "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 & a must! I have never read a more compassionate or sympathetic voice, like that of our heroine's. Also, the quantity of te ...more
May 13, 2008 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
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
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read this many times and have both a kindle version and a paperback. Barbara Pym wrote about ordinary women leading ordinary lives. They don't have interesting, exciting jobs or adventures and their personal lives consist of doing flowers for the church or manning a booth at a church fete. This sounds horrible and tedious, but it is exactly the opposite; her books are funny and sweet and excellent, just like her women.
Kim Kaso
Aug 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 28, 2013 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
Dec 12, 2011 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
Oct 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“...I told myself that, after all, life was like that for most of us - the small unpleasantness rather than the great tragedies; the little useless longings rather than the great renunciations and dramatic love affairs of history or fiction.”

“Let me hasten to add that I am not at all like Jane Eyre, who must have given hope to so many plain women who tell their stories in the first person, nor have I ever thought of myself as being like her.”

Love Barbara Pym's books, but it's so hard to tell w
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Just what I was looking for! This is charming, witty and introduced me to the wonderfully observant Mildred Lathbury. My first book by Pym, but not my last!

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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
Apr 07, 2009 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 the sense that not all women need to be married to
Magrat Ajostiernos
Mildred me ha conquistado! :D
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
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
Claire Fuller
Nov 10, 2016 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
Oct 24, 2008 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!!!
Katie Lumsden
May 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this. It's like Jane Austen but set in the 1950s - very witty, but at times tinged with sadness.
Teresa Proença
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: n-reino-unido, 4e
"Talvez a infelicidade seja melhor do que não sentir nada."

As Mulheres Excelentes de Barbara Pym são solteiras, inteligentes, generosas e boas donas de casa; não trabalham, dedicando-se a causas sociais. As não excelentes são casadas, inteligentes, egoístas e umas marotas; têm uma profissão e não perdem tempo a arrumar a casa. Todas são felizes com o seu estado...

Gostei e diverti-me muito a ler este romance, que de enredo não é farto. Vale pela escrita, pelo humor e pela personagem principal - a
Jul 19, 2008 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
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
Me ha gustado pero quizá el hecho de haber tenido tan poco tiempo para leer esta semana ha hecho que no haya disfrutado tanto de la lectura, todo y con eso tengo que destacar que Barbara escribe de maravilla y da gusto leerla.
This was a strange read, it's a lot to do about nothing. It was just a step into the everyday lives of a group of people that are connected by geography. I almost quit reading it several times but curiosity about the characters pulled me back in. A clean cozy with good narration.
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4,5 para una novela que me ha encantado
Mi primera experiencia con la autora no ha podido ser mejor. Un retrato de personajes y ambientes tan cuidado, ameno y lleno de sutil humor que me ha hecho de su lectura algo maravilloso. Me costaba dejar el libro y era un gustazo ponerme de nuevo con el.
Personajes a los que coges cariño (Mildred te conquista), son humanos, con sus cosas buenas y malas.
Desde luego estoy deseando leer Amor no correspondido.
Muy a tener en cuenta la edición de Gatopardo
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Me ha sorprendido mucho este libro, ¿cómo una historia tan cotidiana engancha tanto?. Me he reído con los pensamientos de la protagonista, resulta tan humana!, tiene una gran capacidad crítica, pero está muy atrapada por todos los convencionalismos de la época.
Jan 25, 2013 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
Apr 01, 2015 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
Roger Brunyate
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion, women
Small Lives

I read this for a two-family book club. Despite coming from a totally different background himself, the other husband has a penchant for selecting smallish books about people living somewhat in the shadows, frequently with a religious connection, and often British. And so it is with this novel from 1952 by Barbara Pym. Mildred Lathbury, an unmarried woman in her thirties, lives in an apartment with shared bathroom in an unfashionable part of London. In the mornings, she works in an ag
Feb 24, 2012 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
May 25, 2014 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
Jennifer (aka EM)
What a curious little novel. Gently funny, a little bit sad. I will read more Pym.

This is a good article from The New Yorker: Barbara Pym and the New Spinster
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Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 18 -27 and Whole Book 35 21 May 29, 2017 05:40PM  
Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 10 -17 31 14 Apr 05, 2017 07:22AM  
Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 1 -9 20 23 Mar 30, 2017 12:32PM  
Reading 1001: 10. Review and Rating 14 24 Dec 27, 2016 06:17AM  
Reading 1001: 8. End of the novel. 8 23 Dec 27, 2016 05:38AM  
Reading 1001: 6. Anthropologists 6 13 Dec 27, 2016 05:36AM  
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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
“I realised that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced.” 66 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.” 47 likes
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