Readers' Guide: Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Excellent Women

by: Barbara Pym

Category: FICTION
Guide Created By: JoanP
Discussion Leader(s): JoanP and Pedln
Read our discussion of this book

Book Description Book cover for Excellent Women British author, Barbara Pym, is often compared by her readers to Jane Austen. She creates a 20th century society with roots in Victorian times - but with humor, a very dry humor. "A startling reminder that solitude may be chosen and that a lively, full novel can be constructed entirely within the precincts of that regressive virtue, feminine patience." -- John Updike, The New Yorker.

Relevant Links

Barbara Pym Biography Barbara Pym Society

Subversion from Behind a Teacup" by Catherine Wallace (a must-read!)

Hazel K. Bell's comprehensive Index of Barbara Pym's writings

Discussion Questions

1. From her portrayal of Mildred Lathbury, can you tell how Barbara Pym views the life of an unmarried woman, the spinster?

2. How does Mildred see herself? How old is she? Is she resigned to spinsterhood or is she still hopeful the right man will come along? At the start of the novel, do you think Mildred sees herself as one of the excellent woman of the parish?

3. What did you think of the male characters in Excellent Women? Were any of them comparable to Jane Austen's men? Were any of them interested in Mildred?

4. Do you find examples of Barbara Pym's Oxford education in her fiction? Does she flaunt it? Do you think Mildred attended university?

5. Barbara Pym's forte is said to be comedy. Would you say the same is true of Jane Austen? Will you share some examples from Excellent Women?

6. Will you note and share some of the cosy details characteristic of Pym's novels, especially the kitchen and cookery details?

7. Mildred seems to spend a lot of time in church. Do you think it is because she grew up as a vicar's daughter or do you think religion was more important in the 50s than it is now?

8.Finally, do you see Mildred becoming one of the "Excellent Women" of St. Mary's parish?