A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
It’s postwar Britain and Jane is the wife of a country vicar, or I should say a new country vicar, having just moved from suburban London to a rural village. As Jane gathers up all the gossip of the fascinating little town she realizes she’s itching to play match-maker between her young friend Prudence, a London academic whose love-life seems a bit too fickle to Jane, and Fabian Driver, a handsome widower with a murky past that’s the preoccupation of most of the village chitchat. It’s not the wisest of schemes. For one, Prudence is already in love with someone else. What’s more, Miss Morrow, a hired companion for one of the village’s elder residents, is already in love with Fabian Driver.
If it sounds like a fluffy comedy of manners, you’re not entirely off base. But Barbara Pym, while always light and always funny, has a few other talents as well. First, she’s one of the most evocative of postwar British novelists. Each setting of Jane and Prudence—from Oxford’s academia to dreary London offices, or from an idyllic countryside to a small-town cafe—they’re all sketched brilliantly for us. On top of that, Pym gives us female characters that live and breathe and plots that twist their rich inner struggles into amusing outward conflicts.
Sure, some of the male characters are a little flat in comparison. Oh, and yes, it does feel just a little bit dated to read about twenty-something office girls stressing over their impending spinsterhood. I think that’s all beside the point, though. Pym’s books are an escape into a different time, an escape that still has something to tell us about romance and marriage, about our petty squabbles and most important decisions. Jane and Prudence is one of her very best. Stop by and check it out. If you want more, follow it up with Excellent Women or Some Tame Gazelle.
Review by Matthew