In a particular manner, Excellent Women is a typical Barbara Pym novel. Such an observation is not a damning one, indicating banality, but a celebration of her literary skills. Pym generally writes about a small range of social classes and types, and yet her skill in this novel and other writings reveal a wide universe of insight. Her heroine, Mildred, observes the social situation, making judgments and offering solutions when asked (and sometimes when she is not asked). The result is a person whose basic humanity readers can recognize, but whom they might pass by in real life and never understand.
Excellent Women is a middle-class English novel. The action is never violent, never untoward, but its quiet voice does not mask the deeply felt sentiments of Mildred Lathbury. Her narration has the perfect moral pitch and crystalline discriminations befitting her education (she is well read) and her life experiences. From Mildred’s perspective, the reader can explore the underlying loneliness of life, the absence of self-pity, scrupulousness in one’s relations with others, and the small, blameless comforts that one has in life. Rich with psychological insights, Mildred has the ability to understand people’s weaknesses and to forgive them, because she is honest about her thoughts and their behaviors.
Two scenes illuminate the tone and texture of this novel. The first is when Mildred is having her annual luncheon with William...
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