Jane and Prudence – Barbara Pym

Jane was at Oxford, she studied English Literature and had an interest in the metaphysical poets. She went back and taught at the college she was taught at herself before she then went and married Nicholas and becomes a clergyman’s wife.

Prudence meets Jane when Prudence comes to Oxford. Despite the ten-year age gap, they become friends. Prudence is not married, and Jane thinks she should be before it becomes to late and she goes into a rapid decline towards spinsterhood. But Prudence enjoys her life and her own space, company and flat in London. Only when she goes to visit Jane in her village, does she perhaps feel that she is missing something.

This is story of nothing, which actually means it is about everything. Village life after the war, gossips in the village commenting about the new Vicar’s wife (Jane), the widower next door who treated his wife badly, the friction on the parish council, the threat of other religions which might call the villagers to their place of worship and of course the romance for middle-aged women.

I loved Jane, she came across as scatty, as if she did not care what she looked like (I don’t think she did), who seemed unable to do more than spread butter on bread and had a way of saying the right thing but at the wrong time. She was living her life through Prudence and her love affairs but also now through her daughter has she went to Oxford and started to study the same subject as her mother.

Prudence, on the other hand was not so nice, she had developed a hardness about her. Perhaps because her objects of affections were on occasions unattainable. Her position seems to be everything to her, she works with two colleagues who spend their time talking about what time they arrived at work and therefore what time they should leave, and whether the tea was going to be delivered on time. Much beneath any of them to go and make the tea themselves.

This is my first Pym book I have ever read. It captures something about the middle classes, after the war and has observational humour that resonates even today. A gentle read, an escape into another world that was not that long ago and I loved it.

I am not sure who out in the blogging world nudged me in the direction of Barbara Pym, thank you anyway. I have expanded my reading further and will certainly look out for more of her work – any suggestions are most gratefully received. 

My edition had an introduction by Jilly Cooper (the author is not relevant) but I chose to read this once I had finished the book as I felt it would have coloured my view on coming to the novel. It was the right thing to do, I could then go back and agree (or disagree) with some of what was said and picked up on. These additions to books are very good, but I am very wary about delving into them before or during the reading of the actual novel itself. 

I do so love a village tale that is based so much on observation and also there was some elements of myself I scarily recognised in a couple of the characters! That cannot be good surely? 

2 thoughts on “Jane and Prudence – Barbara Pym

  1. I loved this one, for similar reasons to you. Though I’ve not read enought Pym to make definitive recommendations, Excellent Women is my favourite so far, and it does seem to be widely loved.

  2. I’ve read everything by Barbara Pym and she was such an excellent writer. I’m so glad that she’s beginning to have something of a revival.

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