33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 19, 2004
"I never read anything my mother reads," said my best friend Tom when we were college students. Although that was a long time ago, I still remember his response when I offered him a copy of a Barbara Pym novel. Such is the far-reaching reputation of this very entertaining writer. However, I vouch for the fact that Pym's novels appeal to a much wider public than our mothers.
Take Jane and Prudence. Jane is a frumpy but bright vicar's wife who would, in another age and novel, enjoy a profitable career in Human Resources Management. Prudence, her close friend from schoolgirl days, is a single woman living in a modest flat in London and working in a dreary office but whose life is anything but dull. She likes fine things, makes up her face artfully and fantasizes about her married employer. Jane and her husband the vicar have recently relocated to a village vicarage where the locals are hard pressed to accept their new neighbors. Prudence comes to visit and is courted by the local Lothario who is ultimately swept up by his rich neighbor's hired companion, leaving Prudence slightly bereft and impelled to dally with her pale, lean co-worker who enjoys hiking.
That's the plot as best as I can describe it, leaving out the small but pretty byroads of church decorating parties, council meetings and office lunches.
Within this precious story is great high comedy, full of irony and wit. The office scenes are hilarious, depicting an inpenetrable hierachy that had me laughing away. The village characters are all distinct and never reduced to stock rustic characters, therefore I was fascinated. The very industrious woman who lands the local but lazy Lothario gives a firm example of "setting one's cap" to winning a mate. Pym likes to depict characters who study anthropology and it's fitting that her people in this story are quite a tribal study in themselves.
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2002
What a joy it is to sink into a Barbara Pym novel, especially this one, which is one of my favorites. The eye for detail, the wit, the ability to sketch a character with just a sentence or two, that this author possesses, never fail to delight. I return to her novels every couple of years, and find them to be balm for the soul.
This trip into the English countryside of 50 years ago, with its vicars, teas, and rationing, is a gentle and wondrous escape from current realities. Yet, like all great literature, its insights into human nature is timeless.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 1999
You need not be an Anglophile to enjoy Jane, the vicar's wife whose literary past has her quoting odd lines of seventeenth century poetry at inappropriate moments, startling her visitors and making her readers giggle. Jane's friend Prudence is all propriety and green eye shadow, but can't seem to find a suitable husband among many suitors, some more colorful than others. A brief but pleasing little novel, sharply written and finely shaped. If you're not already a Pym fan, you'll become one.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on December 20, 1998
'Jane and Prudence' is what I would call a 'universe' novel, rather than a 'things happen' one. Pym draws one into the quietly complex world of her characters. Jane is a charmingly dithery clergyman's wife, deep in her own literary world and consequently always saying and doing not quite the right thing. There is much irony in this novel, especially in the way characters relate to each other. Pym exposes the petty prejudices and selfish scheming manouvres of ordinary people. Although this is not what you'd call a nail-biter, I found 'Jane and Prudence' very engaging, and a pleasure to read.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Jane and Prudence is the story of two friends--Jane is a middle-aged clergyman's wife, and Prudence is a spinster at the age of 29, "an age that is often rather desperate for a woman who has not yet married." When Jane and her husband move to a small parish, they meet a widower named Fabian Driver, with whom Jane wants to set Prudence up. This novel is a very quiet satire of love and romance and the constant search for them.
Jane and Prudence's friendship is an unlikely one, and it's hard to see why, exactly, they're friends (beyond the fact that they met at Oxford). In addition, I kept wondering why Jane would want to set up her good friend with someone who's a known womanizer. Still, she means well. I think the interplay between the two main characters is well done. Of the two, I think I prefer Jane with her hapless housekeeping over Prudence, who seems a bit arrogant at times. I think in a different age (say, ours), Prudence would be just anther career woman living in London (and she'd have a much better job). If she lived today, though, there would still be a focus on getting her set up with a boyfriend or husband, so not much has changed there.
I did also like Nicholas, Jane's husband, who puts up with Jane's flaws with an admirable amount of patience. There's a lot of humor in this book, but some of it is downright mean at times.
Still, Barbara Pym is at her best when she's talking about the relationships between men and women. She has some very interesting things to say about the state of being married, or not. I think the reason why Barbara Pym's novels appeal to people even today is that her themes are so wide-ranging and timeless.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2009
Part of what leaves me gasping about Barbara Pym the perfection with which she captures how people adapt to yearning, pettiness, and disillusionment: their own and those with whom they live. Her characters behave with civility and even gentility and yet --
In so many ways, these people break faith with each other and, more lethally, with themselves. Ennui and its traveling companion, laziness, undermine good intentions. A veneer of goodwill barely conceals condescension and even scorn. And is it really gossip if, when talking about somebody, we choose our words carefully and our concern is more or less genuine?
We look at each other more clearly than we will ever be able to look at ourselves. Still, others are capable of surprising us, of acting against everything we believed of them. But the ability to shake things up depends largely on how we respond to darting moments of insight. We make decisions, Pym implies, especially when we decide to do nothing.
This novel re-works some aspects of Pym's earliest novel, Crampton Hodnet. In particular, the dynamics between a spinster and her companion (whose names and other characteristics she reprises) play out differently and perhaps more satisfyingly. The story itself could be said to be painted on a larger canvas, but more subtly.
I regularly reread this book and others by Pym because I enjoy her stories. But I do so knowing that she will challenge me, in the nicest possible way, to look at how I live with others and, even more cunningly, she will dare me to look at how I live with myself.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This book is a favorite of mine for two reasons. The first is the delightful contrast between the title characters. Jane is a very typical "Pym woman" - intelligent, well-meaning, and wildly eccentric. Both her fond, scholarly clergyman husband and her common-sense daughter have pretty much given up expecting her to behave like a proper vicar's wife. She tries, but her imagination runs away with her and she's impervious to the nuances of social situations. She's an entertaining woman to read about, but would be terribly uncomfortable to live with.
Prudence is a lovely, glamorous, "desirable" (in her own estimation) single woman who was once Jane's student at Oxford. She is, in fact, the ONLY young, single beautiful heroine in Pym's books. She's no dummy, being a university graduate, assistant to a erudite author, and much given to quoting obscure poets. However, her main interest is showcasing her good looks, maintaining an elegant lifestyle in her carefully furnished London flat, and enjoying her tragic love affairs. In her late twenties, she's beginning to wonder when all of those affairs will result in a marriage. Everyone else wonders, too.
The second reason that I love this one is that it has two characters whom I believe to be auto-biographical. Both were introduced in CRAMPTON HODNET, a very early novel that wasn't published until after Pym's death. One of the characters is the blunt, eccentric, chain-smoking writer "Barbara Bird" who is clearly a spoof on Pym herself. In CRAMPTON HODNET, she's a young university student in love with her married professor. Here she has matured into an odd, but successful writer who cranks out novels for her fans while never taking them (or herself) too seriously. She's a very minor character, but great fun.
Jessie Marrow is the wildcard in the plot and she represents a type of woman that Pym held dear - the plain, intelligent spinster despised (or pitied) by society, but an unexpectedly forceful character and the possessor of a rich inner life. Exactly HOW Jessie goes about achieving her goals and throwing a huge monkey wrench into the plans of Jane and Prudence makes for a completely satisfying story.
Pym developed a devoted following in the mid-1950's because her novels were faithful, but humorous portraits of post-WWII middle-class English life. It's a world in which people are unashamed of being literate and where the rigid English class system is still a given. Pym's characters think nothing of wishing to meet "people of our kind" or of discussing the "working class" in indulgent, but lofty tones. Conscious of their own superiority, they don't mind that the tradesmens' homes are furnished more expensively. A battered Chippendale chair with a broken leg is still preferable, if not comfortable or even functional. This book is a peek inside a world that no longer exists, but the characters and themes are timeless and Pym's beautiful writing and sly humor are enduring treasures.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Barbara Pym (1913-1980) has been a late-in-life discovery for me. A year ago I read "Excellent Women" and was quite taken with it. I now think of it as one of the most under-appreciated English 20th-Century novels that I have come across and rather remarkable for an author's second novel. JANE AND PRUDENCE was the next of Pym's novels. Though not quite as fine as "Excellent Women", it clearly is from the same pen and is enjoyable reading.
Jane Cleveland is 41. Having gone to Oxford, she forsook scholarly work on the 17th-Century metaphysical poets in order to become a vicar's wife - a calling that does not come easily to her. Prudence Bates is her friend and a former student whom she met at Oxford during a brief tenure as a tutor. Prudence is 29, unmarried, and (as both Jane and she worry from time to time) in danger of becoming a spinster. Finding an appropriate match for Prudence is never far from Jane's mind.
The story (set in the early 1950's) is told from a woman's perspective. At one point, a spinster, commenting on a handsome widower who is notorious for his womanizing, notes that "men only want ONE THING." This being prim and proper England, what that THING is goes unvoiced. But Jane, actually married and thus a little more experienced, adds to that one thing, "typing a man's thesis, correcting proofs, * * * bringing up children, balancing the housekeeping budget." And the spinster observes that "men need company more than women do. A woman has a thousand and one little tasks in the house, and then her knitting or sewing."
It is a gentle feminist critique (circa 1953), mildly mocking and slightly rueful at the same time. The other object of Pym's understated, almost tender, satire is the Anglican Church and the conventions and social order that prevail in a country parish.
The narrative flows. It is light and deft. Jane and Prudence are full-fledged characters and all of the secondary and minor figures in the novel are comically human in their petty vanities and insecurities. JANE AND PRUDENCE is neither profound nor great, but it is graceful and human. I will soon go on to Barbara Pym's next novel; indeed, I sense that reading her could become mildly addictive.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2013
Jane, 41 and Prudence,29 are friends from school days at Oxford, Jane being the teacher and Prudence having been her pupil. They have remained friends these many years. Jane is married to a Vicar, Nicholas and they have a daughter, Flora who is ready to attend University. Prudence has remained a spinster though she has an imaginary crush on her married boss at work.
And though one would expect that of the two women Jane would be the one with common sense this does not prove out. Poor Jane goes through her life with very humorous vague thoughts, actions and conversation. In fact she is most inappropriate in the funniest of ways and at the strangest of times. In reading her I sometimes felt like a curtain just plop, dropped over her eyes and mouth. On the other hand Prudence has common sense even though she lives in a world of make believe love.
When Nicholas is transferred from his London Parish to a village Parish Jane and Prudence continue their friendship through letters and train trips back and forth to visit one another.
The women of the Parish often raise an eyebrow at Jane for she is definitely not your ordinary Vicar's wife plus the previous Vicar was unmarried though he was (**gasp**) engaged to a woman whom his parishioners had never met. And as with any Pym novel, there is much matchmaking by the ladies of the church.
I enjoyed this one as I do all of Barbara Pym's work but have waited to long to give a review of much content. For as Pym's works are all similar in the way of the nice middle aged spinster women doing their good deeds, working for the local Parish, caring for the Parish Curate or Vicar and spending time gossiping and matchmaking, if I don't write the review right away her books all run together in my head. But that is something I have come to love and depend on from her.
Like all of her other books that I have read, I recommend Jane and Prudence. I giggled and laughed my way merrily through this one. I do remember thinking that it is the funniest one of hers I have read yet. I rated it 4 stars out of 5.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2015
I love anything by Barbara Pym. I just found out there's actually a North American Barbara Pym Society. I need to join.
This author wrote novels from the 1950s to 1980. She was so underrated, for her fiction is not flashy or hugely plot-driven. It's about ordinary lives, English "gentlewomen" and others, usually women who live alone as "spinsters" or who are married but not paragons of the perfect housewife. In Jane and Prudence, two very different women are friends. Jane was Prudence's tutor at college, so there's a bit of a generation gap, but they have remained friends. Jane is married with a daughter and Prudence is a glamorous spinster living in London and working for an older, married man she fantasizes about. A lot of the novel concerns the small village in which Jane lives and the foibles of its residents. Prudence is drawn in as Jane has ideas about setting her up with a romantic-seeming widower. There are so many bits of subtle irony and humor about everyday occurrences in this novel. I have read it several times, and each time I find myself laughing out loud. I turn to Pym's novels as I might turn to comfort food, knowing I will be satisfied.