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Excellent Women (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 26, 2006

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Excellent Women (Penguin Classics) + Quartet in Autumn (Plume) + Jane and Prudence
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (December 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014310487X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143104872
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An unqualifiedly great novel from the writer most likely to be compared to Jane Austen, this is a very funny, perfectly written book that can rival any other in its ability to capture the essence of its characters on the page. Mildred Lathbury, the narrator of Pym's excellent book is a never-married woman in her 30s--which in 1950s England makes her a nearly-confirmed spinster. Hers is a pretty unexciting life, centered around her small church, and part-time job. But Mildred is far more perceptive and witty than even she seems to think, and when Helena and Rockingham Napier move into the flat below her, there seems to be a chance for her life to take a new direction. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


[One of] the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the past seventy-five years. (Lord David Cecil)

A startling reminder that solitude may be chosen and that a lively, full novel can be constructed entirely within the precincts of that regressive virtue, feminine patience. (John Updike, The New Yorker)

Reading Barbara Pym is . . . a wonderful experience, full of unduplicable perceptions, sensations, and soul-stirrings. (Newsweek)

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Customer Reviews

Mildred Lathbury is one such woman.
Rebecca Lindroos
Barbara Pym is as subtle and sharp as Jane Austen and gives an understated but accurate portrayal of what life must have been like for the single woman in the 1950's.
Christopher Walker
This is a delicately written, observant and complexly perceptive novel.
Ernest Joselovitz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

103 of 108 people found the following review helpful By C. Ebeling on November 20, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Don't leap to the assumption that a book written fifty years ago about an unmarried do-gooding gentle woman would have nothing for a contemporary audience. Despite its London church parish setting well populated with the spinsterish "excellent women" of the title, Pym's book delivers sharp observations about men and women, together and apart, and society's expectations for all. Her truths are pungent a sexual revolution later.
Relevancy aside, this is a good read. Pym lays out her well-defined world much as Jane Austen does, providing a critical and always witty tour. The characters are drawn as sharply as any Austen delivered. The novel is entertaining but rewardingly complex as it probes not only gender and social mores but also asks if Mildred Lathbury, the protagonist and narrator, is choosing the life of an excellent woman or if she is saddled with it. To use a contemporary phrase, it is about having a life, and this deceivingly gentle-seeming book is asking questions that are as rugged and significant as any asked in our less regulated times.
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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Jay Dickson VINE VOICE on June 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
There are certain books that really can't be fully appreciated until you're older and can bring to them the understanding of maturity: Henry James's "major phase" novels, for example, and perhaps Jane Austen's MANSFIELD PARK. A writer whose talents completely eluded me when I was younger was Barbara Pym; her world of elderly churchgoers and celibate vicars in postwar England seemed too grim to me when I was in my early twenties, and I saw her novels as tragedies rather than as the brilliant comedies they really are. EXCELLENT WOMEN fully deserves its current reissue status in the Penguin Classics series because it really IS a twentieth-century English classic. Its title has famously come to describe a certain kind of character to which Barbara Pym thoroughly lays claim as an author, and is thus often considered the most emblematic of Pym's works (it is certainly one of the funniest).

The comic genius of the novel is not that its heroine, the respectable and virginal and shabby-genteel Mildred Lathbury, is unwanted by her society, as I misunderstood when I was in graduate school, when I first read the novel. Rather, she is TOO much in demand, and not only is of great use to the church officials who want her to shine the brass of their decaying pews, but also of the confused married neighbors in her lodgings and even the few bachelors she knows (who subtly feel her out for her interest in marrying them--overtures which she always curtails). Although Mildred is puzzled by the work of the anthropologists she meets, she is herself too much of an anthropologist ever to commit to married life (or even sharing a room with another spinster friend).
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
Barbara Pym is an author who has gained in reputation since her death, and "Excellent Women" is the epitome of her writing. A comic novel with a delicate touch, it loses nothing by being set in the 1950s. We recognise the characters and situations. For me, the understated romance between Mildred Lathbury and Everard Bone carries echoes of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". I defy any woman not to enjoy it.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Karen G. Cooper on January 31, 2002
Format: Paperback
All of Ms. Pym's books are excellent and worth reading over and over. Quartet in Autumn & The Sweet Dove Died are sad. All the others are humourous. About everyday life--stuff we've all been through, the people we put up with, the slights, the boredom. But through Ms. Pym's eyes, these tedious daily events are amusing set pieces. She's subtle...just describes the situation, makes a comment and lets you figure out just how funny your everyday life would be if you could stand back a little. As I said in the title of this review...her stories are like the sitcom Seinfeld: nothing ever happens, but it happens to all of us, and it's hilarious.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Vincent Henley on October 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is a window into what was perhaps a better time when such things as good manners in social interaction were held in higher esteem than now. I wondered while I read this book why it was never my good fortune to have met an "excellent woman" such as the protagonist Mildred Lathbury. Perhaps such women existed only in post war London and not in the America of the last quarter of the twentieth century if they existed at all. Such is my loss, but I can at least enjoy the carefully crafted character of Pym's women as they cope with their rather ordinary, but very real and believable lives.

Barbara Pym is not a Jane Austen, and I don't mean that negatively, as she is worthy in her own right without the comparison. She is at least as observant of her time, its people and its customs as Jane was of hers. Seen through the eyes of Mildred Lathbury, this period of less than a year's span around 1951 or so contains momentous human events such as romance and disengagement, breakup and reconciliation, old friends revisited, new friends explored, new experiences, and the hopefulness of companionship and romance to come. Mildred imagines herself to have been in love once long before and the reader is sidetracked into wondering how she came to realize that she was not in love, even as she speculates on the types of men with whom she might now come to find herself in love. But, she seems to have given up on love and become reconciled to being over thirty and likely to remain unmarried forever.

There is a sort of grayness about Mildred's existence that she recognizes with some dissatisfaction, but has come to accommodate with resignation.
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