Ah, the Barbara Pym experiment of 2015 has come to an end. It’s kind of sad, in a way. I’ve really enjoyed reading all of her work, and I feel like she would have been a kick in real life. I decided that even though I reviewed Jane and Prudence last year for CBR6, it would be nice to end at the beginning. I’ve still decided that Jane and Prudence is my favorite of the novels, and there are some sly references to the other novels that I missed the first time around. Hooray!
If you check my link, you can read my summary, so I won’t waste your time by resummarizing the novel. However, I will mention the things that I missed the first time around. First, the idea of “excellent women” features fairly heavily by contrasting a single “spinster” of 29 and a successfully married clergyman’s wife at 41. Pym seems to favor neither one or the other, by presenting her choices in a satirical light and illustrating that we all have made choices that we regret in life. Next, there are intersections with characters in other novels that are unexpected and funny. Miss Morrow and Miss Doggett from Crampton Hodnet play a fairly large role in this novel, and Miss Doggett’s life takes an unexpected turn. Mildred Lathbury of Excellent Women gets a mention, and a plot point gets closure in this brief mention (hooray! I was delighted by it, too). Finally, the feminism that I believe Pym advocates enters heavily into the novel with its sly refusal to adhere to the marriage plot faithfully, particularly where Prudence is concerned. The open ending leaves room for closure and imagination, but it also suggests an infinite number of possibilities for a single woman in the mid-twentieth centuries. While Pym was aware of her time, I believe she felt that women could advance to something greater.
If you’ve never read Pym before, start here. It’s lovely.