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.)