Jane Cleveland and Prudence Bates were close friends at Oxford University, but now live very different lives. Forty-one-year-old Jane lives in the country, is married to a vicar, has a daughter she adores, and lives a very proper life in a very proper English parish. Prudence, a year shy of thirty, lives in London, has an office job, and is self-sufficient and fiercely independent—until Jane decides her friend should be married. Jane has the perfect husband in mind for her former pupil: a widower named Fabian Driver.
But there are other women vying for Fabian’s attention. And Pru is nursing her own highly inappropriate desire for her older, married, and seemingly oblivious employer, Dr. Grampian. What follows is a witty, delightful, trenchant story of manners, morals, family, and female bonding that redefines the social novel for a new generation.
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Jane and Prudence
By Barbara Pym
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 The Estate of Barbara Pym
All rights reserved.
JANE AND PRUDENCE WERE walking in the college garden before dinner. Their conversation came in excited little bursts, for Oxford is very lovely in midsummer, and the glimpses of grey towers through the trees and the river at their side moved them to reminiscences of earlier days.
'Ah, those delphiniums,' sighed Jane. 'I always used to think Nicholas's eyes were just that colour. But I suppose a middle-aged man—and he is that now, poor darling—can't have delphinium-blue eyes.'
'Those white roses always remind me of Laurence,' said Prudence, continuing on her own line. 'Once I remember him coming to call for me and picking me a white rose—and Miss Birkinshaw saw him from her window! It was like Beauty and the Beast,' she added. 'Not that Laurence was ugly. I always thought him rather attractive.'
'But you were certainly Beauty, Prue,' said Jane warmly. 'Oh, those days of wine and roses! They are not long.'
'And to think that we didn't really appreciate wine,' said Prudence. 'How innocent we were then and how happy!'
They walked on without speaking, their silence paying a brief tribute to their lost youth.
Prudence Bates was twenty-nine, an age that is often rather desperate for a woman who has not yet married. Jane Cleveland was forty-one, an age that may bring with it compensations unsuspected by the anxious woman of twenty-nine. If they seemed an unlikely pair to be walking together at a Reunion of Old Students, where the ages of friends seldom have more than a year or two between them, it was because their relationship had been that of tutor and pupil. For two years, when her husband had had a living just outside Oxford, Jane had gone back to her old college to help Miss Birkinshaw with the English students, and it was then that Prudence had become her pupil and remained her friend. Jane had enjoyed those two years, but then they had moved to a suburban parish, and now, she thought, glancing round the table at dinner, here I am back where I started, just another of the many Old Students who have married clergymen. She seemed to see the announcement in the Chronicle under Marriages, 'Cleveland-Bold', or, rather, 'Bold-Cleveland', for here the women took precedence; it was their world, the husbands existing only in relation to them: 'Jane Mowbray Bold to Herbert Nicholas Cleveland.' And later, after a suitable interval, 'To Jane Cleveland (Bold), a daughter (Flora Mowbray)'.
When she and Nicholas were engaged Jane had taken great pleasure in imagining herself as a clergyman's wife, starting with Trollope and working through the Victorian novelists to the present-day gallant, cheerful wives, who ran large houses and families on far too little money and sometimes wrote articles about it in the Church Times. But she had been quickly disillusioned. Nicholas's first curacy had been in a town where she had found very little in common with the elderly and middle-aged women who made up the greater part of the congregation. Jane's outspokenness and her fantastic turn of mind were not appreciated; other qualities which she did not possess and which seemed impossible to acquire were apparently necessary. And then, as the years passed and she realised that Flora was to be her only child, she was again conscious of failure, for her picture of herself as a clergyman's wife had included a large Victorian family like those in the novels of Miss Charlotte M. Yonge.
'At least I have had Flora, even though everybody else here has at least two children,' she said, speaking her thoughts aloud to anybody who happened to be within earshot.
'I haven't,' said Prudence a little coldly, for she was conscious on these occasions of being still unmarried, though women of twenty-nine or thirty or even older still could and did marry judging by other announcements in the Chronicle. She wished Jane wouldn't say these things in her rather bright, loud voice, the voice of one used to addressing parish meetings. And why couldn't she have made some effort to change for dinner instead of appearing in the baggy-skirted grey flannel suit she had arrived in? Jane was really quite nice-looking, with her large eyes and short, rough, curly hair, but her clothes were terrible. One could hardly blame people for classing all university women as frumps, thought Prudence, looking down the table at the odd garments and odder wearers of them, the eager, unpainted faces, the wispy hair, the dowdy clothes; and yet most of them had married—that was the strange and disconcerting thing.
Prudence looks lovely this evening, thought Jane, like somebody in a woman's magazine, carefully 'groomed', and wearing a red dress that sets off her pale skin and dark hair. It was odd, really, that she should not yet have married. One wondered if it was really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, when poor Prudence seemed to have lost so many times. For although she had been, and still was, very much admired, she had got into the way of preferring unsatisfactory love affairs to any others, so that it was becoming almost a bad habit. The latest passion did not sound any more suitable than her previous ones. Something to do with her work, Jane believed, for she had hardly liked to ask for details as yet. The details would assuredly come out later that evening, over what used to be cocoa or Ovaltine in one of their bed-sitting-rooms when they were students and would now be rather too many cigarettes without the harmless comfort of the hot drink.
'So you have all married clergymen,' said Miss Birkinshaw in a clear voice from her end of the table. 'You, Maisie, and Jane and Elspeth and Sybil and Prudence ...'
'No, Miss Birkinshaw,' said Prudence hastily. 'I haven't married at all.'
'Of course, I remember now—you and Eleanor Hitchens and Mollie Holmes are the only three in your year who didn't marry.'
'You make it sound dreadfully final,' said Jane. 'I'm sure there is hope for them all yet.'
'Well, Eleanor has her work at the Ministry, and Mollie the Settlement and her dogs, and Prudence, her work, too ...' Miss Birkinshaw's tone seemed to lose a little of its incisiveness, for she could never remember what it was that Prudence was doing at any given moment. She liked her Old Students to be clearly labelled—the clergymen's wives, the other wives, and those who had 'fulfilled' themselves in less obvious ways, with novels or social work or a brilliant career in the Civil Service. Perhaps this last could be applied to Prudence? thought Miss Birkinshaw hopefully.
She might have said, 'and Prudence has her love affairs', thought Jane quickly, for they were surely as much an occupation as anything else.
'Your work must be very interesting, Prudence,' Miss Birkinshaw went on. 'I never like to ask people in your position exactly what it is that they do.'
'I'm a sort of personal assistant to Dr. Grampian,' said Prudence. 'It's rather difficult to explain. I look after the humdrum side of his work, seeing books through the press and that kind of thing.'
'It must be wonderful to feel that you have some part, however small, in his work,' said one of the clergymen's wives.
'I dare say you write quite a lot of his books for him,' said another. 'I often think work like that must be ample compensation for not being married,' she added in a patronising tone.
'I don't need compensation,' said Prudence lightly. 'I often think being married would be rather a nuisance. I've got a nice flat and am so used to living on my own I should hardly know what to do with a husband.'
Oh, but a husband was someone to tell one's silly jokes to, to carry suitcases and do the tipping at hotels, thought Jane, with a rush. And although he certainly did these things, Nicholas was a great deal more than that.
'I like to think that some of my pupils are doing academic work,' said Miss Birkinshaw a little regretfully, for so few of them did. Dr. Grampian was some kind of an economist or historian, she believed. He wrote the kind of books that nobody could be expected to read.
'Here we are all gathered round you,' said Jane, 'and none of us has really fulfilled her early promise.' For a moment she almost regretted her own stillborn 'research'—'the influence of something upon somebody' hadn't Virginia Woolf called it?—to which her early marriage had put an end. She could hardly remember now what the subject of it was to have been—Donne, was it, and his influence on some later, obscurer poet? Or a study of her husband's namesake, the poet John Cleveland? When they had got settled in the new parish to which they were shortly moving she would dig out her notes again. There would be much more time for one's own work in the country.
Miss Birkinshaw was like an old ivory carving, Prudence thought, ageless, immaculate, with lace at her throat. She had been the same to many generations who had studied English Literature under her tuition. Had she ever loved? Impossible to believe that she had not, there must surely have been some rather splendid tragic romance a long time ago—he had been killed or died of typhoid fever, or she, a new woman enthusiastic for learning, had rejected him in favour of Donne, Marvell and Carew.
Had we but World enough, and Time This Coyness Lady were no crime ...
But there was never world enough nor time and Miss Birkinshaw's great work on the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets was still unfinished, would perhaps never be finished. And Prudence's love for Arthur Grampian, or whatever one called it—perhaps love was too grand a name—just went hopelessly on while time slipped away....
'Now, Jane, I believe your husband is moving to a new parish,' said Miss Birkinshaw, gathering the threads of the conversation together. 'I saw it in the Church Times. You will enjoy being in the country, and then there is the cathedral town so near.'
'Yes, we are going in September. It will all be like a novel by Hugh Walpole,' said Jane eagerly.
'Unfortunately, it is rather a modern cathedral,' said one of the clerical wives, 'and there is one of the canons I do not care for myself.'
'But I've never thought of myself as caring for canons,' said Jane rather wildly.
'One woman's canon might be another woman's ...' began another clerical wife, but her sentence trailed off unhappily, giving an effect almost of impropriety which was not made any better by Jane saying gaily, 'I can promise you there will be nothing like that!'
'It is an attractive little place you are going to,' said Miss Birkinshaw. 'Perhaps it has grown since I last saw it, when it was hardly more than a village.'
'I believe it is quite spoilt now,' said somebody eagerly. 'Those little places near London are hardly what they were.'
'Well, I expect it will be better than the suburbs,' said Jane. 'People will be less narrow and complacent.'
'Your husband will have to go carefully,' said a clerical wife. 'We had great difficulties, I remember, when we moved to our village. The church was not really as Catholic as we could have wished, and the villagers were very stubborn about accepting anything new.'
'Oh, we shall not attempt to introduce startling changes,' said Jane. 'There is a nearby church quite newly built where all that has been done. The vicar was up here at the same time as my husband.'
'And we are to have your daughter Flora with us, next term,' said Miss Birkinshaw. 'I always like to see the children coming along.'
'Ah, yes; I shall live my own Oxford days over again with her,' sighed Jane.
There was a scraping of chairs and then silence. Miss Jellink, the Principal, had risen. The assembled women bowed their heads for grace. 'Benedicto benedicatur,' pronounced Miss Jellink in a thoughtful tone, as if considering the words.
There was coffee in the Senior Common Room and then chapel in the little tin-roofed building among the trees at the bottom of the garden. Jane sang heartily, but Prudence was silent beside her. The whole business of religion was meaningless to her, but there was a certain comfort even in the reedy sound of untrained women's voices raised in an evening hymn. Perhaps it was because it took her back to her college days, when love, even if sometimes unrequited or otherwise unsatisfactory, tended to be so under romantic circumstances, or in the idyllic surroundings of ancient stone walls, rivers, gardens, and even the reading-rooms of the great libraries.
After chapel there was more walking in the gardens until dusk and then much gathering in rooms for gossip and confidences.
Jane ran to her window and looked out at the river and a tower dimly visible through the trees. She had been given the room she had occupied in her third year and the view was full of memories. Here she had seen Nicholas coming along the drive on his bicycle, little dreaming that he was to become a clergyman—though, seeing him standing in the hall with his bicycle clips still on, perhaps she should have realised that he was bound to be a curate one day. She could remember him so vividly, wheeling his bicycle along the drive, with his fearful upward glance at her window, almost as if he were afraid that Miss Jellink and not Jane herself would be looking out.
Prudence had her memories too. Laurence and Henry and Philip, so many of them, for she had had numerous admirers, all coming up the drive, in a great body, it seemed, though in fact they had come singly. If she had married Henry, now a lecturer in English at a provincial university, Prudence thought, or Laurence, something in his father's business in Birmingham, or even Philip, small and spectacled and talking so earnestly and boringly about motor cars ... but Philip had been killed in North Africa because he knew all about tanks.... Tears, which she had never shed for him when he was alive, now came into Prudence's eyes.
'Poor Prue,' said Jane rather heartily, wondering what she could say. Who was she weeping for now? Could it be Dr. Grampian? 'But after all, he is married, isn't he?—I mean there is a wife somewhere even if you've never met her. You shouldn't really consider him as a possibility, you know. Unless she were to die, of course, that would be quite all right' A widower, that was what was needed if such a one could be found. A widower would do splendidly for Prudence.
'I was thinking about poor Philip,' said Prudence rather coldly.
'Poor Philip?' Jane frowned. She could not remember that there had ever been anyone called Philip. 'Which, who ...?' she began.
'Oh, you wouldn't remember,' said Prudence lighting another cigarette. 'It just reminded me, looking out at this view, but really I haven't thought about him for years.'
'No, I suppose Adrian Grampian is the one now,' said Jane.
'His name isn't Adrian; it's Arthur.'
'Arthur; yes, of course.' Could one love an Arthur? Jane wondered. Well, all things were possible. She began to think of Arthurs famous in history and romance—the Knights of the Round Table of course sprang to mind immediately, but somehow it wasn't a favourite name in these days; there was a faded Victorian air about it.
'It isn't so much what there is between us as what there isn't,' Prudence was saying; 'it's the negative relationship that's so hurtful, the complete lack of rapport, if you see what I mean.' 'It sounds rather restful in a way,' said Jane, doing the best she could, 'to have a negative relationship with somebody. Of course a vicar's wife must have a negative relationship with a good many people, otherwise life would hardly be bearable.'
'But this isn't quite the same thing,' said Prudence patiently. 'You see underneath all this, I feel that there really is something, something positive....'
Jane swallowed a yawn, but she was fond of Prudence and was determined to do what she could for her. When they got settled in the new parish she would ask her to stay, not just for a weekend, but for a nice long time. New surroundings and new people would do much for her and there might even be work she could do, satisfying work with her hands, digging, agriculture, something in the open air. But a glance at Prudence's small, useless- looking hands with their long red nails convinced her that this would hardly be suitable. Not agriculture then, but a widower, that was how it would have to be.
Excerpted from Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym. Copyright © 1981 The Estate of Barbara Pym. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Charming British chic lit
"Womens fiction" the publisher proclaims. I'm not averse to this genre, but I really don't get much out of reading about the slightly foolish antics of the British upper-middle classes. I suppose we're meant to be amused by Pym's exposé of this bunch of rather silly people, but really, from a 21st century standpoint, the stupidity of their sub-culture is so self-evident I doubt that it's worth devoting 250 pages to the analysis. The back cover quotes include this one about Barbara Pym: " 'The Jane Austen de nos jours' A.L.Rowse"(Who the hell is A.L.Rowse?) I have never read any Austen . . . and now I think I'll be happy to go to the grave in that state.
This book had many of the same characters and the same setting as Crampton Hodnet. The story and characters were just as witty and real, however, I found it didn't have so many of the great little asides and observations as Crampton Hodnet, and the ending left me a bit unsatisfied. I could so relate to one of the main characters, Jane. She is a clegymans wife who was a literary major in college, wrote a book about 17th century poetry, and had no idea how to deal with a household, cooking, cleaning, etc. She felt herself a failure in her position and of no support to her husband's calling. I think that Miss Pym may be showing one of the first generations of this problem that we still see today; women's focus being on education, and then finding themselves thrust back into the traditional womens role with no skills and no idea of what they are doing.
There's something quietly lovely about a Barbara Pym novel. It's a perfect rainy day read, as you imagine yourself in England... if you have a large chintz armchair, all the better. And while I don't think you need to adore Jane Austen in order to enjoy Barbara Pym, it probably helps, though there's something a little darker and more melancholy in Pym.Jane and Prudence unsurprisingly deals with two Englishwomen named Jane and Prudence. (As a result, I was singing "Dear Prudence" over the three or four days where I was reading this.) Jane is a minister's wife who is a bit older than Prudence; the two met when Jane was her tutor at Oxford and their unlikely friendship stuck. Jane's husband has just taken over a country parish and Jane is more than usually aware of the fact that she's not a particularly good clergyman's wife. Nevertheless, they move into this parish with their eighteen-year-old daughter, Flora (who is about to head up to Oxford herself), and settle in to meet the locals and navigate the intricacies of a small country town. Prudence, meanwhile, lives in London; she's unmarried and while she is employed, she is not absorbed in academic work, which often leads the older women of their college back at Oxford to be at a loss for fitting Prudence into a particularly neat category, though Jane might say that she might not have her work, but "Prudence has her love affairs." And for the time, it does seem that Prudence has such a romantic nature as to be enjoying the attention of a man or fancying herself in love with another. Prudence's latest focus is her employer, a middle-aged man that does not seem particularly interested in her, beyond one day a while back when he used her Christian name and took her hand as they looked out a window. Jane (in a not-quite-focused way) tries to think of who might be suitable for Prudence in this new town.Aside from scenes set at Prudence's office (where her spinster coworkers pay close attention to what time the tea should be brought in, and mild chatter about the two men in the office), the majority of the book is set in the country parish, where you have the usual assemblage of busybodies and village VIPs. As with all Pym novels, you're presented with women in a rather narrow life, struggling to find their niche or at least muddle through without one. It's highly representative of the post-war feeling of confusion that women of the age must have experienced as they balanced the desire to have work of their own just as they're expected to marry and start families. The intriguing thing, of course, is that it might not be exactly the same today, but it's easy to relate to the unsettled feelings as one tries to find a place in the world that feels like it fits.It's easy to see why one might suggest Pym to those who enjoy Austen. Pym novels are, on the surface, easily summed up as novels about Englishwomen in the middle of the 20th century, often too smart for their surroundings, but without a means of focusing that intelligence as they become wives, mothers, or settle into their role as spinsters (for indeed, there is no real place for a single woman unless it is that of a spinster). If you're looking for a quiet, lovely novel with some subtle social commentary and quite good character insight, then I suggest you try reading a Pym novel. The rainy afternoon and a tray with tea and scones are not required, but they certainly help set the scene.
Beautifully observed, and very funny. One minor quibble - I didn't care for the chick lit cover.
Another delightful book from Pym. This one also featured Miss Jessie Morrow and Miss Doggett, as did my previous Pym, [Crampton Hodnet]. This one dealt with the proper English courting rules (love was definitely a major theme) and how people navigated them. It also, of course, had a delightful cast of characters, most prominent (to me) was Jane Cleveland. She was the bumbling, fumbling new curate's wife that could just never quite add up to her predecessor. Again - quite fun and enjoyable. I would recommend it to anyone who likes cozy English novels and wants a good laugh - and of course, wants to make fun of English courtship.
I picked up this little dollop of Trollope last Saturday afternoon and went through it quicker than a bag of Tim's potato chips. Next thing I knew - I was licking the salt from my fingers - I heard "Live, from New York, it's Saturday night" in the other room. Talk about a seamless transition from light comedy to light comedy.This was my first Barbara Pym, and what a delight! A trans-Atlantic trip on a time machine to post war England and a small English village. There to follow the daily meanderings of Jane Cleveland, a daffy vicar's wife who doesn't quite fit the solemnity of her distaff role. A woman who is always a tad distracted in a "...hello, Lucy?" kind of way. Not a woman you would entrust with the high office of...preparing, without burning, dinner? We wonder "was she ever serious about her university day aspiration of authoring a book on 17th century poets?" Rather, her true passion seems to be to find a match for her youngish friend, Prudence. Prue, age 29, is a working girl/office assistant/researcher who lives a train ride away in London. She's a touch vain and lost in a limbo of a social life. As the story opens, she's vaguely pining for the attentions of her middle-aged and married mentor/employer. But only dreamily. And daydreaming of her college conquests, an honor roll of fading romeos. But only vaguely.Enter the recently widowed Fabian, the village Lothario. Curiously, Fabian has a benign reputation for he usually had the discretion to conduct his extra-marital affairs in London. And, sufficient grace, in local entanglements, to end an amour while at the same time finding his wife a new knitting partner.Pym's writing sparkles with the detail and dialogue that make those English so ummm.... English! It's a wry twist of girly book, and not just for the ladies. Though more than once, it's observed with a bit of eye-rolling that "A man must have his meat, you know!" And, that men are just interested in the mysterious "main thing". I say, gents and ladies, just relax, have an Ovaltine and some oyster patties, put your feet up, and let the skilled hand of Barbara Pym adjust your pillow. This is a better escape bargain than any you'll find on Orbitz.
Husbands took friends away, she thought, though Jane had retained her independence more than most of her married friends. And yet even she seemed to have missed something in life; her research, her studies of obscure seventeenth-century poets, had all come to nothing, and here she was, trying, though not very hard, to be an efficient clergyman's wife, and with only very moderate success. Compared with Jane's life, Prudence's seemed rich and full of promise ... She had her work, her independence, her life in London ... Lines of eligible and delightful men seemed to stretch before her ... (p. 83)Jane and Prudence first met at Oxford, where Jane was Prudence's tutor. The two have been friends for years. Prudence, 12 years younger, is unmarried and living in London. At 41, Jane is married to a vicar and has just left London to join her husband in his new country parish. Jane cannot resist attempts at matchmaking on Prudence's behalf, and so invites her to visit and meet a local bachelor. Much of this novel is a comedy of manners focused on the gossip and personalities that are typical of any church community. Barbara Pym's writing uses quite subtle wit to poke fun at everyday life. And while I enjoy her writing, this book was less interesting, the plot more predictable, than others I have read. Short, enjoyable, respectable ... but in the end, just kind of average.