Barbara Pym Writing Styles in Excellent Women

This Study Guide consists of approximately 35 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Excellent Women.
This section contains 901 words
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Point of View

The point of view in "Excellent Women" is in the first person, through the eyes of the main character, Mildred Lathbury. Mildred has a unique point of view regarding the workings of relationships in the church and between members of polite society. Conversely, Mildred has an extremely limited scope in regards to romantic relationships so that it may not be clear to her what kind of behavior takes place in such a relationship or in a marriage.

Mildred's point of view may be limited in some ways yet the other characters fill in where Mildred's voice is lacking clarity.

The first person point of view works well in the book except for those instances when Mildred's naivete colors the story. Although the innocence lends charm to the story, the reader may be better served through a third person omniscient point of view in order to develop a more complete picture. This is especially true when it comes to Mildred's opinions on Julian Malory, whom she adores, and Everard Bone, who remains an enigma throughout the story. Another example may be that Mildred's opinions do not always effectively describe certain characters in the story such as Miss Statham and Sister Blatt.

Overall, the use of first person works well in that it gives the reader a solid sense of Mildred's character. The point of view does not necessarily match the time period in which the story is set however, and that inconsistency is never thoroughly explained.


The first setting used in "Excellent Women" revolves mainly around the apartment building in which Mildred lives along with her neighbors, Helena and Rocky Napier. The building is located in a less than desirable neighborhood in London, yet offers security to its tenants. The flats where Mildred and the Napiers live are medium sized and pleasant. The shared bathroom is an annoyance for the tenants and at times becomes a point of contention when it comes to cleaning and the replacement of toilet paper.

Although the building is located in London, the tenants seem to feel secure in their surroundings.

The second main setting is the Malorys' house. The house is actually a parish house inhabited by brother and sister, Julian and Winifred Malory. Since both are unmarried, it is a beneficial arrangement for the siblings to share a home.

The Malorys' house is large and comfortable. In fact, the siblings come to believe that they are selfish for inhabiting such a large house when there are people in need of a place to live. That decision leads to the introduction of Allegra Gray, the woman who becomes the Malorys' tenant and Julian's fiancée.

Little is said about the Society of Aged Gentlewomen, Mildred's workplace, or St. Mary's Church.

Language and Meaning

The language in "Excellent Women" is supposedly based on the average Londoner in the 1950s. However, the usage is reminiscent of novels from the 19th century, which brings about comparisons to Jane Austen's characters and story lines.

The language is proper with most of the grammar being used correctly. There are times when the language is stiff and overly formal, giving the impression that even the friendliest of characters are no more than passing acquaintances. There is little familiarity throughout the dialogue.

The first person point of view puts Mildred's language in the forefront, save for the dialogue amongst the other characters. The author does a good job in representing Mildred through cleverly chosen words designed to depict the character's upbringing and often rigid set of beliefs and behaviors.

The most contradictory and confusing aspect of the language is the time period in which the book is set. One would expect a different type of language, more informal and perhaps peppered with slang, from characters set in the 1950s, regardless of their social standing or occupation.

There is a great deal of wit and cleverness throughout the text, including descriptions of the people and their habits. This can clearly be seen in Mildred's description of Dora and her penchant for being an untidy roommate.


"Excellent Women" by Barbara Pym is a work of fiction that consists of 256 pages broken down into 27 chapters.

The shortest chapter in the book is 5 pages in length; the longest chapter is 13 pages in length. There is an average of 9 pages per chapter.

The structure of the book maintains a consistent story line. Occasionally, a chapter will contain a large number of short scenes that require the reader to shift from setting to setting or between various situations and characters.

Some of the scenarios could easily be expanded, while some, such as the lengthy description of the church bazaar could be shortened. The description of the activities at the church bazaar serves an important purpose to show the reader how the members of the church interact, their roles as well as their disagreements and individual ideas. However, devoting an entire chapter to the bazaar seems extraneous and does very little to move the story forward.

Overall, "Excellent Women" is well structured in that the reader can easily follow along with the main thread of the story. While there are references to past events, they are kept to a minimum and are clearly defined so that the reader will not confuse those events with the present. The short chapters also help the structure, allowing the reader to keep characters and events in proper perspective.

This section contains 901 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
Excellent Women from Gale. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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