Pym's Cup: A Review of Barbara Pym's EXCELLENT WOMEN

Article by brooke

In the world of Barbara Pym, a single, thirty-year-old woman is a bona fide spinster. Mildred Lathbury is just such a specimen: an unmarried woman in post-WWII England who works part-time “at an organization which helped impoverished gentlewomen, a cause very near to my own heart, as I felt that I was just the kind of person who might one day become one.”

Pym was excellent company this winter as I, in an effort to preserve funds, refused to turn on my heat for six weeks straight and elected, instead, to drink a lot of tea and wander around clutching a hot water bottle. Mildred Lathbury isn't the only one worried about becoming an impoverished gentlewoman.

If you look past the teacups and vicars, you quickly learn that Pym is a sharp observer of life in all its disappointing details. After she chases her tray down the line at a self-service cafeteria, Lathbury says, “At the end of it all I found myself, bewildered and resentful, holding a tray full of things I would never have chosen had I had time to think about it.”

I often find myself bewildered at resentful, not the least because adult life isn't all it's cracked up to be. I so identified with Lathbury and her dinners of tinned baked beans and evenings of listening to the wireless and knitting. I myself spent a fair amount of time listening to the radio in my kitchen. I have yet to take up knitting, but only because I tried once and was no good at it. Also, I have a hard time imagining myself wearing the fruits of my labor.

The characters of Pym's novel are both endearing and ordinary, and she has a knack for serving up concise but revealing descriptions, like this one of the vicar's sister Winifred, a great organizer of jumble sales: “She was dressed, as usual, in an odd assortment of clothes, most of which had belonged to other people.”

I am, myself, a fan of the church jumble sale. I am the proud owner of a $10 Oreck vacuum cleaner from just such a sale, which, after $60 of improvements prescribed by the snake-oil salesman at the Oreck store, is now in perfect working condition.

EXCELLENT WOMEN is one of those quietly perfect books that goes about its business as unobtrusively as its heroine. The only thing that would make this gem more enjoyable is pairing it with a cocktail, the phonically appropriate Pimm's Cup. Just like the work of Barbara Pym, it's zesty, refreshing, and completely enjoyable from start to finish. I recommend pairing Pym and Pimm at Anvil, your friendly neighborhood cocktail lounge.

Excellent Women Cover Image
By Barbara Pym, A. N. Wilson (Introduction by)
$16.00
ISBN: 9780143104872
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - January 1st, 2007

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