Excellent Women Themes

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 846 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Marriage

Marriage is a prevalent theme throughout "Excellent Women." In London in the 1950s, being unmarried over the age of thirty dubbed a woman as a spinster with little to no hope of ever catching a husband. There is much said about unmarried women, from Mrs. Morris' opinion that it is unnatural for a woman to live alone to Everard Bone and William Caldicote's observations that excellent women such as Mildred should never marry. Marriage is for women who are less sensible and not as capable as Mildred. While Mildred is somewhat flattered to think that she is an excellent woman, there is also a sense of disappointment since it seems that men do not see her as "the marrying kind."

The approach to courtship throughout the book is rather archaic given the time period. The author has been compared to a modern Jane Austen and the tone of the work clearly shows a strong comparison. The romances in Excellent Women involve little more than intention, as it was in the day when people simply decided to marry without exploring the finer points of the relationship. This can clearly be seen in Mildred's relationships with Julian Malory and Everard Bone.

In the end, Mildred has a renewed sense of hope in regards to relationships although they might not necessarily lead to marriage.

Clergy

Much of "Excellent Women" deals with the clergy and their positions as a part of society. As a general rule, members of the clergy are devoted to their churches, parishes and members of the congregation. The responsibilities of being a pastor come first and foremost before all others. This is especially true with Julian Malory, who is unmarried. Mildred and other people in the church find it strange for Julian to be involved with Allegra Gray and resent that the pastor's time is being devoted to something other than the church and the traditional roles of the congregation. Even those who support Julian in his relationship, at least at the start, are somewhat upset by his new behaviors.

Those closely related to the church have an unerring sense of propriety and tradition. There are to be no variances in what is considered to be appropriate behavior. Service must always come first before self and the clergy are especially bound to this rule and are to remain available at all times.

As the daughter of a clergyman, Mildred has grown up with the lifestyle and attitudes of an integral member of the church. This may serve Mildred well in some areas yet it may also prevent her from experiencing life.

Since Mildred was raised in a vicarage, it would make good sense for her to marry Julian; she already knows the ways of a pastor's house and the duties that would be expected of his wife.

Appropriate behavior

A great deal of "Excellent Women" deals with the topic of appropriate behavior. Since the time period of the book better relates to the 19th century rather than the 1950s, the code of conduct is strict. This is especially true for Mildred and the other unmarried women of the church.

There are many instances in which Mildred is shocked or chagrined by another's lack of appropriate behavior. The first relates to the fact that Helena Napier does not believe in performing any sort of domestic chores. This is shocking to Mildred since she was raised to believe that a woman's duty is to her husband and the home.

It is clearly pointed out that it would be inappropriate for Mildred to become the Malorys' tenant because she is an unmarried woman and although Winifred lives in the house, Julian is an unmarried man. The only reason Allegra Gray's presence is appropriate is because she is the widow of a fellow clergyman.

Finally, one of Mildred's strict rules of appropriate behavior is to make sure that she is always dressed appropriately in the company of a man. When Mildred meets Everard on the street and is not wearing stockings or a hat, she is embarrassed and tries to avoid meeting the man's gaze.

Significant Topics

The narrator, Mildred, is confided in and trusted by several characters who lead less orderly, more complicated lives than hers. She becomes involved with an engaged couple (her minister and his fiancee), and a quarreling married couple (her downstairs neighbors). Some of these, notably the vivacious but spiteful neighbor Mrs. Helena Napier, seem condescending and patronizing towards Mildred, even as they seek her help. Mildred grows increasingly discontented with her own life which seems so unexciting and boringly stable. Helena pities Mildred for not leading "a full life."

The novel raises the questions of what constitutes a full life and, whether a woman like Mildred must have a man in order to live fully.

To some extent, the answer to the latter question seems to be yes. At the novel's quietly upbeat ending Mildred has possible involvements with two reasonably suitable men, and "it seemed as if I might be going to have what Helena called 'a full life' after all."

This section contains 846 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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Excellent Women from Gale. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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