The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Because Excellent Women is a story told in the first person, it focuses, more than do most Pym novels, on a single person, Mildred. As the title suggests, though, this one protagonist is typical of a group. She is one of the women “not for marrying,” as she puts it, “but for being unmarried,” a state she sees as essentially positive rather than negative. In the Pym world, where marriage usually appears in the guise of feminine ministering to the masculine need for comfort, being single is often to be preferred-but not in Mildred’s case. She is a self-denier, a committed Christian who regrets her lapses from unjudging charity into the witty judgment that comes naturally to her, a lover of cookery who, to mortify body and spirit, condemns herself to lunches at a great automated cafeteria, a woman disinclined to face the reality of her feelings, whether they are her dislike of Mrs. Gray, her attraction to Rocky Napier, or her growing interest in Everard Bone, whose growing interest in her is evident to the reader in spite of Mildred’s determined self-effacement.

Mildred, then, is a woman who will be taken advantage of-if not by a husband who can offer security, companionship, and other compensations, then by most other inhabitants of her small world. The characters who surround Mildred are chiefly the exploiting kind, though one is shown a gallery of supplementary excellent women (Winifred Malory and the other spinsters of St. Mary’s) and though Father Malory himself is saintly and simple, too detached from worldly concerns to be consciously selfish.

The varieties of...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mildred Lathbury

Mildred Lathbury, the protagonist and narrator, the daughter of a deceased clergyman. She works part-time for an organization that aids impoverished gentlewomen. A pleasant-looking, quiet woman in her early thirties, Mildred is one of the “excellent women” actively performing good works at St. Mary’s Anglo-Catholic Church in London. She is very witty and shrewd, although both of these traits are evinced primarily through interior soliloquies and seldom show in her exterior manner toward others. Mildred has a mild romantic interest in Julian Malory, whose vanities and foibles she readily recognizes, and briefly develops an interest in Rocky Napier. Mildred embodies the excellent traits of unmarried women of a certain age who provide cohesion to churches and other small British communities while making clever observations on the banalities of these groups.

The Reverend Julian Malory

The Reverend Julian Malory, the forty-year-old rector of St. Mary’s Church. A tall, ascetically handsome, vain man, Malory lives with his unmarried sister Winifred and delights in the affection and services proffered by the women of his parish. His devotion to high church frills and the Boys’ Club shields him from complex interaction with women until he is smitten by love for Allegra Gray. Their engagement is broken off when Allegra tries to evict Winifred from his house, thereby causing Malory to retreat to his...

(The entire section is 558 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Mildred is a prototype of an "excellent woman" and a typical Barbara Pym heroine. She is intelligent, sensitive to nuance, dependable,...

(The entire section is 156 words.)