Excellent Women, Paperback Book
4 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Mildred Lathbury is one of those 'excellent women' who is often taken for granted.

She is a godsend, 'capable of dealing with most of the stock situations of life - birth, marriage, death, the successful jumble sales, the garden fete spoilt by bad weather'.

As such, she often gets herself embroiled in other people's lives - especially those of her glamorous new neighbours, the Napiers, whose marriage seems to be on the rocks.

One cannot take sides in these matters, though it is tricky, especially as Mildred, teetering on the edge of spinsterhood, has a soft spot for dashing young Rockingham Napier.

This is Barbara Pym's world at its funniest and most touching.


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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

I can't remember who recommended this to me, but I definitely found out about it here on LT. And I'm grateful to whoever it was, because I adored this book.Mildred Lathbury is a middle class, thirty-something spinster in post-war London. Her time is spent working with elderly and distressed gentlewomen and at her parish church. The book follows the twists and turns of her relationships with (among others) Father Malory the vicar and his sister, her new neighbours Mr and Mrs Napier, and the newly arrived clergyman's widow Mrs Gray.The subtle satire, the gentle, dry, self-deprecating humour of Miss Lathbury and the phenomenal character sketches absolutely made this book. The writing is beautiful, the plot twists are tiny but significant, the profound commentary on human nature is deftly slipped in to telling effect - and the cumulative effect is that a story about the ordinary becomes something extraordinary.I hadn't even finished reading this library book before I'd ordered a copy for my own bookshelf, and added several more titles by Barbara Pym to my wishlist.

Review by

This is the first Barbara Pym novel that I have read. It centres around (and is told by) Mildred Lathbury, a so-called 'Excellent Woman', ie a woman who is very good, and indispensible, but whom nobody would think of marrying. Indeed, Mildred is a spinster, living alone. She finds herself increasingly involved with the local vicar and his sister, and with her new neighbours, the exciting Napiers. But this in turn leads to her being put upon by people and by the end of the book Mildred is starting to feel a bit fatigued by it all.This is a nice read, and I enjoyed it all, although I did feel that the story didn't really have any purpose. I think the reader must take it as a snapshot of Mildred's life over the course of a year, and not have any great expectations of it. I certainly found that I wanted to keep turning the pages to see what happened in her life next, and I enjoyed Pym's look at the church and it's personnel and workings. I have a copy of Some Tame Gazelle, and look forward to reading that too.

Review by

This is one of those books that at once seems to manage to depict a world that has totally disappeared, while at the same time presenting a fairly timeless picture of human nature. The London of the 1950's in which Barbara Pym's excellent women live has certainly long gone, as have the excellent women themselves, or perhaps they have merely metamorphosed into a different form. But certainly a London where the daughters of vicars did little part-time jobs to supplement their meagre private incomes before returning home to a nondescript flat with a shared bathroom is no more. Nor, thank goodness, is the food: macaroni cheese (with the cheese being in very short supply), served with potatoes, and blancmange for dessert anyone? No, I didn't think so. But this is the world that Barbara Pym's excellent women inhabit: the middle-class women of a certain age (well, in reality over thirty) who have failed to find a husband but who form the backbone of the local parish. Church bazaars, jumble sales, and flower arrangements are all dependent on the work of these excellent women. So, when a woman of a quite different sort moves into the flat beneath that of Mildred Lathbury, Mildred is jolted out of the world that she has always inhabited. For Helena Napier is most certainly not an 'excellent woman', she is an anthropologist with lax ideas about housework and cooking. And when Helena's rather dashing husband Rocky arrives Mildred's world is jolted even more. And it's in Mildred's attempt to assist with the marital difficulties of Helena and her husband, and to assist also in the affairs of the vicar and his sister that the timeless nature of the book comes out. Mildred is the sort of person who others continually expect to listen to their troubles and to help them out with their personal difficulties, and that people will often take advantage of someone like that certainly hasn't changed.This is the first Barbara Pym I have read, but it definitely won't be the last.

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