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review 2019-04-15 16:33
Excellent Women / Barbara Pym
Excellent women - Barbara Pym

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 handsome, dashing husband, Rocky, and Julian Malory, the vicar next door--the novel presents a series of snapshots of human life as actually, and pluckily, lived in a vanishing world of manners and repressed desires.


I felt that I was now old enough to become fussy and spinsterish if I wanted to.

Amen, sister Mildred! I felt so much kinship to this single woman, obviously competent and to whom others turn when they want something done and don’t want to do it themselves. At a tourist site, someone turns to Mildred to ask directions and says, “I hope you didn’t mind me asking, but you looked as if you would know the way.” I’ve had the same thing happen to me frequently. Apparently I look like I know what I’m doing, despite the fact that I’m often wondering about my own competence! (One of my coworkers once told me that he figured the world was split into patients and nurses and that I would be a head-nurse. I’m still wondering if this was a compliment or an insult.)

It’s no secret that there are tasks that tend to get heaped on single women. It is assumed that because you don’t have a husband or children, you have oodles of spare time in which to do things for others. So you can be the one to do the emotional labour of keeping up friendships or keeping in touch with family. This can work for you or against you. You can use it to your advantage as Mildred does:

”I began piling cups and saucers on to a tray. I suppose it was cowardly of me, but I felt that I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?”

She can find solitude at the kitchen sink because, as she told us earlier, “I had observed that men did not usually do things unless they liked doing them.” Hence the church-going men who hang around the jumble sales and drink tea, but, like the drones they are, do very little else.

It has always surprised me how much society pushes us toward romantic relationships. Like Mildred, I’m just fine with my single status—I can certainly see the married women around me struggling with challenges that I don’t have to face. It may be a liability someday when I need an advocate when I’m in assisted living, for example, but having a spouse or children doesn’t guarantee that they will show up to do this task. I had to laugh when one relative spent ages agonizing to me about whether to get divorced and then turned around and worried about whether I would get married!

I am just fine being numbered among the excellent women.

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text 2019-04-12 05:19
Reading progress update: I've read 72 out of 256 pages.
Excellent women - Barbara Pym


Barbara Pym, why have I never read any of your work until recently?  What a pleasure!

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text 2019-04-10 22:24
Agathytes Buddy Read Reminder

If you haven't already acquired your copy of Crooked House, act now! Our Crooked House buddy read started in 9 days!


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text 2019-04-09 15:27
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 104 pages.
Murder on the Nile - Agatha Christie

Just a placeholder update - I think that today is our day to read, Themis? My copy came from amazon a couple of weeks ago. I am going to slip it into my purse and spend some time with it over my lunch hour.


I checked on audible, but wasn't able to locate any sort of a radio play of this one. Are you aware of anything?


I am really interested in how this one works without Poirot.

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text 2019-04-07 19:43
Reading progress update: I've read 29 out of 242 pages.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

Even knowing what's coming, this book is just delightful. This time around, I am loving Caroline so much - she is so funny. I also love it when Dr. Sheppard says:


"My dear Caroline," I said. "There's no doubt at all about what the man's profession has been. He's a retired hair dresser. Look at that moustache of his."


about Hercule Poirot. 



And then that melancholy moment when Poirot thinks back to his dear friend Hastings:


“Also, I had a friend—a friend who for many years never left my side. Occasionally of an imbecility to make one afraid, nevertheless he was very dear to me. Figure to yourself that I miss even his stupidity. His naïveté, his honest outlook, the pleasure of delighting and surprising him by my superior gifts—all these I miss more than I can tell you.”


“He died?” I asked sympathetically.


“Not so. He lives and flourishes—but on the other side of the world. He is now in the Argentine.”


Even half-way around the world, poor Hastings lack of acumen is the topic of conversation with M. Poirot.

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