I only learned of Pym’s existence in the past year, having come across her novel Quartet in Autumn via a list of books about friendship on Five Books (such a great rabbit hole of a website, btw!).
As Excellent Women is a “high comedic” novel, I thought it’d make a great choice for the Comic Novel category in the Classics Challenge. It did not disappoint.
Protagonist Mildred Lathbury is a mild-mannered spinster in post-WWII England. A now-orphaned clergyman’s daughter, Miss Lathbury is one of society’s “excellent women,” those helpful, supportive types who live heavily tied to their duties toward their families, neighbors, and parishes.
The novel follows Miss Lathbury as she welcomes new neighbors to the flat above hers, a couple that includes a hopelessly sociable and handsome flag lieutenant husband and a stylish wife who is an anthropologist pursuing a love interest outside her marriage.
Miss Lathbury quickly gets pulled into their affairs, including the wife’s relationship with her love interest, a rather stiff and stoic fellow anthropologist bearing, I am delighted to report, the name “Everard Bone.” Pym excels at naming characters.
Miss Lathbury is also a very active member of her parish and, before widow Allegra Gray moves into the neighborhood, is somewhat expected to marry the local vicar Julian Malory. Malory, who has remained single into his 40s, lives with his sister Winifred, who has taken on the role of vicar’s wife in the parish. His life, it seems, depends on the excellent women around him.
Each of these relationships has its little dramas throughout the novel. Through it, we watch Miss Lathbury come into her own somewhat, as she becomes fed up with people’s expectations that she involve herself in their unnecessarily complicated romances and relationships.
I enjoyed the whole romp. The village itself reminded me a bit of Middlemarch with its quirky characters and tedious dramas. I loved Miss Lathbury too, especially when she becomes irritated with the people around her and starts laying down boundaries. I loved that she gets annoyed with being the kind of woman who’s always making a cup of tea in a crisis. And , moreover, that she lives a quiet life with which she’s quite happy. There are lots of charming comments on domestic life.
“My thoughts went round and round and it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the ‘stream of consciousness’ type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink.”
I can truly relate to that.
Would love to know your thoughts if you’ve read this one!
P.S. As stated, this is my entry for the Comic Novel category of the 2019 Classics Challenge.