Excellent Women

Some favourite lines from Barbara Pym’s novel Excellent Women (1952), about 30-something spinster Mildred Latham:

“I had observed that men did not usually do things unless they liked doing them.”

“‘Oh, the women should look after that sort of thing,’ said Julian. ‘Mothballs, camphor and so on,’ he added vaguely. ‘I believe it’s perfectly possible to keep the moth at bay. Do you think Mrs. Napier has done her duty in that respect?'”

“‘Oh, they have the knack of catching a man. Having done it once I suppose they can do it again. I suppose there’s nothing in it when you know how.’ ‘Like mending a fuse,’ I suggested, though I had not previously taken this simple view of seeking and finding a life partner.”

“‘I eat as many birds as possible,’ said Mrs. Bone when we were sitting down to roast chicken. ‘I have them sent from Harrods or Fortnum’s, and sometimes I go and look at them in the cold meats department. They do them up very prettily with aspic jelly and decorations. At least we can eat our enemies.'”

“I suddenly felt very tired and thought how all over England and perhaps, indeed, anywhere where there was a church and a group of workers, these little frictions were going on. Somebody else decorating the pulpit when another had always done it, somebody’s gift of flowers being relegated to an obscure window, somebody’s cleaning of the brasses being criticised when she had been doing them for over thirty years ….”

“There can be no exchange of glances over the telephone, no breaking into laughter. After a few more insincere regrets and apologies we finished and I hung up the receiver, thinking that the telephone ought never to be used except for the transaction of business.”


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