Excellent Women Critical Context - Essay

Barbara Pym

Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Pym’s popularity has passed through three stages. Her early novels gained critical praise, a solid readership, and moderate financial success. This phase was followed by a period of neglect in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, which was succeeded in turn by a renaissance heralded by her being twice mentioned in a list published by The Times Literary Supplement of “most under-rated writers of the century” (1977) and validated by Pym’s return to novel writing, critical acclaim of her new efforts, and the reissue of her earlier books.

Excellent Women has gone through this cycle, along with the remainder of the early Pym books, but it was the most popular of those novels among general readers, a mark of its popularity being its selection as a Book Society Choice and its serialization on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Woman’s Hour. Its appeal has continued to be strong since Pym’s rediscovery; indeed, the novel’s title has become a tag for Pym’s fictional world. Reviewing the book when it was reissued in the United States, John Updike wrote: “Excellent Women, arriving on these shores in a heyday of sexual hype, is 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.”