Posted by: istop4books | January 10, 2011

Excellent Women, Barbara Prym

This is the book for our January 2011 book club.

Written in 1952, it’s about a 30-something year old spinster woman, Mildred, the only daughter of a late clergyman, who lives alone in a flat in a somewhat shabby part of London, close to her church.  She’s smart, self-reliant but pretty much of a doormat for the people around her.  She’s an “excellent woman.”  She helps at church, volunteers, minds her P’s and Q’s.

While reading this I had to keep in mind that it was written right after the war and that it takes place in the prim and proper England. The time is about the same as first TV shows of “I Love Lucy,” but the world of New York and London are fairly far apart. Where New Yorkers were happy go lucky, went to the Copacabana, movies, Hollywood, dressed smartly and played bridge – the Londoners seemed to drink endless cups of tea, had a tiny circle of friends and acquaintances, and spent most of their lives at church.

Mildred seemed like a very sad character to me, eating out of tins, or alone in a cafeteria; worrying about other peoples’ problems, being thought of as madly in need of a husband — with no profession and very little in the way of a varied life, she struck me as meaningless.  Not that I didn’t like her, because I did, but I wished she had some reason to get up in the morning, other than to plan the next jumble sale at the church.

The novel does evolve and is very well written.  Her character is anything but one dimensional, but it was more a reflection of the times, so very straightlaced, so many words withheld for propriety’s purpose that left me feeling more sorry for her than hopeful.


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