After reading Excellent Women I knew, just knew, that I had to read more of Pym’s novels. Jane and Prudence was the second one I read and I did love it, not as much as Excellent Women, but love it I did.
The two women of the title are old friends from Oxford. Jane is older and was Prudence’s tutor at college. She’s now married to a vicar and still has a fondness for her specialty, 18th century poetry. Prudence is 29, single, works at a mysterious office in London, has a crush on her boss and is undeniably beautiful and tries to be glamorous. The two women’s lives intersect again when Jane decides to set Prudence up with her new neighbor Fabian Driver, a handsome widower.
The story is told with Pym’s signature wit and gentle handling of the absurdity of human beings and their quirks. Jane is not your typical vicar’s wife; she can’ t cook to save her life, her housekeeping skills are extremely below average and she always looks a mess. Yet she is very interested in people and likes the interaction with them that a vicar’s wife is privileged with. She feels her inadequacies keenly, but after 20 years of marriage she has learned not to let her lack of traditional skills bother her.
Prudence is an altogether different sort of woman. She relishes the domestic arts, dresses beautifully and is always well turned out, has a comfortable and inviting home and is a good cook. She’s not completely unhappy about being unmarried as she enjoys being courted and spoiled by men. She and Jane seem like a mismatched pair of friends, but something in each of them complements the other and they find each others’ lives fascinating.
The question of women’s roles are the foundation of this novel. I love how Pym gives the vicar’s wife absolutely no domestic talents yet the aging single woman is a wonderful homemaker and really isn’t all that interested in entering into a conventional union. It is all cloaked in Pym’s lovely, light humor and great characterizations.
The more I read Pym, the more I am impressed. Achieving such a buoyant style with complex undertones is much harder than it looks. I really admire her writing and I look forward to reading many more (if not all) of her novels.