Some more excellent women-far away from the Frozen North

Your Frozen North weather report: Still Frozen. Activities include, sitting in a pub in front of a roaring fire watching icicles drip outside the window. The weather is freezing (literally) and although we haven’t had any more snow for the last few days, it is still about a foot deep outside. Everywhere is made narrower and more inaccessible by piles and mounts of snow everywhere. So, still cabin feverish, but beginning to get out more now.  Thank you wonderful local library for renewing all my books. While running out of books in this house is not imminent, we are not getting postal deliveries so buying books online isn’t really working. And any dedicated bibliophile knows that it’s all about getting your hands on different books, no matter how many you have already lying around.My book clubs have been postponed so storing up great thoughts about great books!

Today’s two books are both by Barbara Pym, who wrote Excellent Women that I posted on some months ago. Jane and Prudence, and A Glass of Blessings are both as good in their way, the idiosyncratic style of describing women and their lives being an acquired taste.

These books are both set in the 1950s, they feature women who live undramatic lives, and no great events challenge the follow of the narrative. So far, so Austen? These do remind me of Austen inasmuch that I cannot easily say what happens in a hugely dramatic way, and indeed in many ways are less significant than Austen in terms of the protagonists carrying on with their lives at the end of the novels more or less as they began.

To see these books in a negative light is too easy and not really fair. They are cleverly written intense perspectives on the lives of women. They are financially well off, but there is something essentially missing in their lives. Easily the most painfully accurate characterisation ( at least in my eyes) is Jane. She is a vicar’s wife with no ability to cook, no dress sense and not really very effective with the parishioners. Ouch! Happily she has a daughter who knows where the kitchen is,  a’woman who obliges’, and her husband  seems blissfully ignorant of the domestic  world collapsing around him. It’s only when she tries to matchmake her Oxford friend that confusion breaks out. Prudence is twenty nine and sorely in need of help. The problem is that Vicar’s wives in this generation were not necessarily the best at romantic assistance. This is very enjoyable for those who revel in nuance, detail, setting, clothing and all those small things that make this writing memorable. I found it painfully funny, not in a laugh out loud way but gently amusing and not challenging.

Equally A Glassful of Blessings is a careful, gentle portrait of a bored wife, Wilmet. She has no money worries, her husband is generous to a fault, even her home and social life is organised for her. She becomes attracted by the clergy and people of a local Anglo-Catholic church, and gets embroiled in their concerns and lives. She also becomes involved with Piers, brother of a friend, and what he is really involved in. I found this an interesting, if rather slow moving book, nicely detailed and perceptive of motives. Wilmet is an unsympathetic character but means well, and her innocent observations are gently amusing. I think that this book is for the Pym devotee, rather than someone new to the author. I like these books, but I’m not convinced that they have dated well. Jane and Prudence is the more interesting but both are ideal for something a bit different and quite restful.

2 thoughts on “Some more excellent women-far away from the Frozen North

  1. “The problem is that Vicar’s wives in this generation were not necessarily the best at romantic assistance.”

    – Mum, you’re not exactly talented in this area either… xxx

  2. > “we are not getting postal deliveries so buying books online isn’t really working”

    Sounds like what you need for a Christmas present is an Amazon Kindle, which can download books off the Internet!

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