“I felt that I needed to get away from all the problems—mostly other people’s—with which I had been worries in the last few months. If I could look at them from a distance they might solve themselves.”
This charming and delightful book introduces us to Mildred, a single unmarried woman who falls into the category of an “excellent woman.” As we learn soon after starting this book, ‘excellent women’ are not the ones who get married. They are practical, sensible and of course, women with good manners. What woman would choose to remain unmarried? Is that considered a bad thing? Are single, mature women simply old maids their married friends and neighbors turn to for help in bailing them out of the ups and downs of domestic crisis?
Would that not make for an excellent wife? Barbara Pym turns this idea of older women as busy bodies on its head because quite frankly, Mildred, an excellent woman, possess all of the wonderful qualities mentioned above. But people around her take her for granted as they seem to expect her to help them solve their problems and tend to their needs.
Mildred’s new neighbors, the Napiers, peak her interest from the start. Helenè is an anthropologist, and her husband Rocky is the handsome flirtatious sort. The Napiers don’t seem to fit the mold of a typical couple since it appears that Helenè seems more interested in her colleague, Everard Bone, than in her husband.
In short this book is excellent simply because Pym presents quite an array of different women, but draws attention to the fact that a woman in Mildred’s position can feel free to make a decision that doesn’t include getting married. Living as an independent and sensible woman can be very rewarding, even when it requires helping the blundering married people with their issues.
I’m excited by the prospect of reading more of Pym’s books. Have you read anything by Barbara Pym?