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Excellent Women

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3.92  ·  Rating details ·  9,376 ratings  ·  1,370 reviews
Excellent Women is probably the most famous of Barbara Pym's novels. The acclaim a few years ago for this early comic novel, which was hailed by Lord David Cecil as one of ”the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the past seventy-five years,” helped launch the rediscovery of the author's entire work. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter ...more
Kindle Edition, 249 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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3.92  · 
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 ·  9,376 ratings  ·  1,370 reviews


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Fabian
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, & 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 ...more
MsAprilVincent
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
Beverly
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
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 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 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
Rebecca
Dec 12, 2011 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
Melindam
“...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
...more
Malia
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!

Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com
Magrat Ajostiernos
Mildred me ha conquistado! :D
·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
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
Idarah
Apr 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Kathryn
Oct 24, 2008 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!!!
Katie Lumsden
May 14, 2016 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.
Jeanette
May 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just excellent! This cores on ordinary people in an era that most today would consider the most "ill" and mundane, but that I consider the most intensely insightful. Also one of the most individual despite being labeled the opposite. And full boat wide with positive energy and optimistic possibilities. For sure! I remember the adults then. Heroes without having to advertise their onus abounded.

And we do have some excellent women here. With expertise in all the womanly excelling talents and beyo
...more
Lisa
{4.5} Mildred is an "excellent woman," always available to make tea, wash up and listen to the troubles of others. I read this novel at just the right time in my life to appreciate it. (I did try to read Pym a couple decades ago and found her bland and dull.) I rooted for Mildred through her self-doubt and guilt and loved her wry humor and quizzical observations. I miss her already!
Paula
Jul 19, 2008 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
Cphe
A gentler story but not without a few home truths along the way. Mildred Lathbury is a spinster who becomes caught up in the trials and tribulations of her married neighbours and others in her church circle......she is viewed by these characters as an "excellent woman". However Mildred is neither staid nor dull, she is intelligent and compassionate and possesses a wry sense of humour.

It's through Mildred's observations and commentary that we get a glimpse into the social mores of the times, life
...more
Kathleen
Mar 19, 2017 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
Mir
Jul 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As soon as I started this I realized that I had in fact read it before, probably over a decade ago. That's all right, one doesn't read Pym for the plot but for her effective, understated writing and excellent characterization. However, it does make me wonder whether I actually read Less Than Angels, because I don't recall reading more than three novels by Pym. I'm sure about Some Tame Gazelle and No Fond Return of Love because I read those post-Goodreads.
✨Susan✨
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.
Roger Brunyate
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
...more
Jennifer
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
Wyndy
3.5 stars.

Excellent women, in Barbara Pym’s world at least, are the “observers of life”, the reliable, sensible, polite, supportive, churchgoing, community-minded, UNMARRIED ladies generally taken for granted by men and often called “dear.” Frankly, if you ask me, these London ladies need to trade their insane amounts of tea for three fingers of Evan Williams now and again. They all need to let their hair down a little.

Mildred Lathbury is the daughter of “an old country clergyman.” She’s thirt
...more
Lynda
May 25, 2014 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 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
Carol
Apr 01, 2015 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
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Reading 1001: Excellent Women by Pym 2 7 May 11, 2019 03:13PM  
Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 18 -27 and Whole Book 35 23 May 29, 2017 05:40PM  
Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 10 -17 31 16 Apr 05, 2017 07:22AM  
Women's Classic L...: Excellent Women - Chapters 1 -9 20 25 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 24 Dec 27, 2016 05:38AM  

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529 followers
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
“I realised that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced.” 68 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.” 51 likes
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