Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The plot of Excellent Women centers on Mildred Lathbury, her thoughts about the other characters in the novel and her actions toward them. She injects herself into the lives of a young couple, Helena and Rockingham Napier. He is something of a low-grade ladies man, and she is an anthropologist. Mildred befriends them as a couple and individually. Their marital difficulties generate varied expressions of concern from Mildred. Father Julian Malory and his unmarried sister, Winifred, are another pair of characters. St. Mary’s is Mildred’s church, and Julian and Winifred are significant friends to Mildred; however, she still has the capacity for ironical remarks about them. It is Julian’s engagement to the widow Allegra Gray that creates the biggest concern in this comic novel of manners. An egotistical anthropologist, Everard Bone, “courts” Mildred but in a disjointed and inconsistent manner; his is a very satisfied existence. Dora and William Caldicote, brother and sister, are the last major characters in the novel. Dora’s friendship with Mildred has an off-putting quality, and William is only interested in his own feelings and experiences.

The men in this novel are not attractive or strong. They are indecisive, lacking in some moral quality. They are not evil; they are simply ineffectual. The women, on the other hand, are “excellent.” Except for Allegra, the husband-seeking widow, they all have qualities that contribute to their enduring strength, allowing them to carry on from where life has deposited them.

In this first-person narrative, Mildred tells of her relationship with the Napiers and the Malorys. Her story reveals much about them, but more important,...

(The entire section is 697 words.)