Thumbs up for Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Literature.
The ‘excellent women’ of the title are a breed of unmarried, religious women who do useful things like organizing church jumble sales and working part-time at charities for Fallen Gentlewomen. Excellent Women, the book, is narrated by Mildred, who is just over thirty and ergo officially a spinster, as she comes to recognize that she will be an Excellent Woman for the rest of her life. This could be sad, and it is rather, but it is her drily witty observation about the requirements of her position that make this a wonderful read. Think post-WWII Austen with no Darcys or Knightlys.
For a moment I almost did wish that Everard Bone could be with us. He was quiet and sensible and a church-goer. We should make dull stilted conversation with no hidden meanings to it. He would accept the story of Julian and Mrs. Gray in the park without teasing me about it; he might even understand that it was a worrying business altogether. For it was. If Julian were to marry Mrs. Gray what was to happen to [his sister] Winifred? I was quite sure now that he did intend to marry her and could not imagine why I had not seen it all along. Clergymen did not go holding people’s hands in public places unless their intentions were honourable, I told myself, hoping that I might perhaps be wrong, for clergymen were, as Dora had pointed out, human beings, and might be supposed to share the weaknesses of normal men. I worried over the problem in bed that night and wondered if I ought to do anything. I suddenly remembered some of the ‘Answers to Correspondents’ in the Church Times, which were so obscure that they might very well have dealt with a problem like this. ‘I saw out vicar holding the hand of a widow in the park – what should I do?’ The question sounded almost frivolous like that; what kind of an answer could I expect? ‘Consult your Bishop immediately’? Or, ‘We feel that this is none of your business’?
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