Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Wandering about on the internet a couple nights ago, I found this essay, A Nice Hobby, Like Knitting: On Barbara Pym.  I had heard of the Barbara Pym, but never read any work by her and after reading the essay reserved a copy of Excellent Women from the library.

Excellent women are those women in post WWII England, who kept the stiff upper lip, dealt with the austerity and kept home, church and community all running smoothly even with limited rations.  They are in many cases spinsters or sometimes widows.  The novel is an in depth character study and sketches in the life of an excellent woman, Miss Lathbury.  The daughter of a clergyman, who has now died, she finds herself alone, but not really, in the world.  Miss Lathbury is relied on by many and touches lives in ways you would not expect.

The issue explored with Miss Lathbury as a childless, husbandless, excellent woman is that people think nothing of expecting her to be available to them at all times, after all what else would you have to do?  I found myself nodding along as people attempt and sometimes succeed in roping Miss Lathbury into chores with no consideration or even thought of what she might want to be doing. This is a position that the unmarried childfree people often find themselves in today.  Who can work extra hours?  Not A, he as a new baby at home.  Not B, she is having dinner with her husband…etc.  Along with this is the “pity” that surrounds the idea of being an unmarried woman in her thirties during that time.

Very well written, humorous, and completely charming read.  The book blurb refers to Barbara Pym as the 20th Century Jane Austen and I would certainly agree that she is well deserving of that praise.

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