The 1952 novel by English novelist Barbara Pym, this book is narrated by the slightly above 30 daughter of a now dead vicar. Still closely associated and attached to the church, she considers herself one of those “excellent women” who do the physical and emotional labor of the church parish. She’s also recently started becoming overly concerned with her own lack of marriage, and given that she’s spent most of her time with the youngish married women, and feel awkward around them, as among other things their marriages are breaking up. She also feels more in common with the young war widows, but without the dignity of having lost anyone.
She finds herself becoming more and more fascinated with the limited and few men around the parish, the injured, the clergy, professors, but also can’t seem to find one to marry, and she’s starting to question whether or not she wants to marry anyone.
It’s interesting that this novel, like a lot of others describe a set of problems that wouldn’t disappear, but would be greatly mitigated by our somewhat more loose strictures for women. Novels like this help to carry on that cultural conversation.
Age is an interesting factor in so many novels, and I would think more so with novels primarily about women. Think of how limited Anne Elliot is in Persuasion at 27. But even here, with a woman in her 30s, her marriage status and her age are her defining features, even for herself, even if she doesn’t quite have the language to fully describe it. Regardless, this book is fun and charming and cutting in the right, subtle ways.