Watch the amazing Locus juggle several books at once, and try not to drop any! Free admission.
This book was an absolute revelation for me, introducing me to an author I was unfamiliar with. Now I have several print editions of her novels on their way to me, including a paperback omnibus that includes Excellent Women, since audiobooks of novels never really do it for me (I love going back and forth between pages and chapters, and I find it hard with audio). The narration by Jayne Entwistle was fantastic, but I need to see the words for myself.
Mildred had me alternately charmed and frustrated. On the one hand, she had a level of freedom that many of the women around her lacked, and she made good use of it; on the other hand, she often seemed to be desperately grasping for traditional roles that were obviously changing, and sometimes seemed to be part of a "mob mentality" when it came to unconventional people. When Julian's engagement ends, she's happy to have things go back to the way they were, saying good riddance to the widow who almost married him. But, of course, while she's an excellent woman, she's not perfect.
One thing I wrote in my notebook as I was reaching the end of the novel last night: "For Mildred (and Pym?) the secret to being an "excellent woman" (spinster) is to be well-rounded in both internal and external life. I've come to see that maybe Mildred doesn't criticize Helena because she has a career that she puts above all else, but because there's no balance between her intellectual life and her mundane one. She's not self-sufficient, as evidenced by her cooking and housekeeping disasters. But the men (as Mildred acknowledges) have the same problem. To her, being excellent might mean cultivating a rich inner life while still being able to negotiate life's small everyday details."
A couple of articles linked in previous posts (mine and those of other reading buddies) gave me further insight into how Pym might have viewed this unique condition: the fact that spinsterhood is more a state of mind than a legal/civil one. And I immediately realized that I, myself, am very much a married spinster.
A big thank you to all my reading buddies; you've made this an amazing experience, and I've enjoyed reading your thoughts and sharing ideas. Maybe we can do another Pym-along soon? I'll make the tea.