I have just finished reading Excellent Women by Barbara Pym and found the novel amusing and insightful. Published in 1952, Excellent Women is written in the voice of Mildred Lathbury, an unmarried vicar's daughter living in a bed-sit in London. Mildred's voice in self-deprecatory but wry and insightful. As an unmarried lady, she ministers to the "distressed gentlewomen", helps out with church jumble sales and provides a listening ear and a cup of tea to friends and neighbours. She is an "excellent woman."
Unfortunately, others do not recognize that Mildred may have her own needs. Assumptions are made that, since she is unmarried, she has no purpose in her life but to care for others. No request is too great to be made of her. Mildred's own wistful ambivalence to her unmarried state leads to various romantic fantasies. Being needed or being used is very different from being loved. The "excellent" woman is often overlooked and under appreciated.
Excellent Women is one of those quiet novels that could easily be a BBC production or a Merchant Ivory movie. Domestic squabbles, maiden sisters, and quirky characters are the stuff of this book. Although it is a tale set in time before I was born, it made me ask myself, "What is an excellent woman?"