November 4, 2015 – Notes

 In attendance: Liz Clarke, Vivian Krone, Janice Loschiavo, Lois Pagnozzi, Cathy Quinn, Sharon Rome, Barbara Santillo, Tina Segali, Joan Swensen.

Absent: Meta Pitrelli (Florida), Marilyn Sinisi (Atlantic City).

Emeritus: Donna Sabetta, Jeri Stangl.

Book & Author: Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym.

Janice stayed just long enough to distribute lottery tickets (did we win?); Liz, initially delayed by traffic, gave out homemade banana and pumpkin breads; Barbara, recently returned from a trip to Paris, distributed “Miraculous Medals” to even the non-believers in the group. It was like an early holiday party.

Questions, notes and quotes regarding Excellent Women:

  • Can married women be “excellent women” or is the category reserved for unmarried females? Sharon responded that the title was more about qualities of kindness and giving, rather than marital status.
  • As described in the novel, these women are helpful with church duties, and integral to the charitable activities in which parishes are involved. They are called upon to help others in whatever capacity is needed.
  • Liz mentioned that men often take advantage of excellent women, and Barbara added that women do, as well.
  • Barbara shared with the group her feeling that she belongs to the category. She recognized early on that her life would be about what she did for other people. However, she knew her self-worth was dependent on who she was rather than what she did.
  • Does what we do define who we are? Where does your feeling of self-worth come from?
  • Is Mildred’s life enviable? The general feeling was no, but Sharon pointed out that Mildred’s time was her own and she had a certain freedom that a woman with a husband and family wouldn’t have.
  • Vivian pointed out that Mildred liked her privacy, demurring when faced with the prospect of having Julian’s sister live with her.
  • Barbara noted that Pym came back in style in the 70s, with the Laura Ashley movement. Others were surprised at this given the sex, drug and rock ‘n roll of that time period.
  • The group discussed the situation in which women in that post-war period found themselves. They did so much during the war but when the men returned, things went back to the way they had been. Their jobs were taken away from them.
  • Times have changed; marriage and equality have changed; women find things that they have in common (knitting and book clubs were mentioned!). Cathy cited the saying “men compete, women cooperate.”
  • Were the men in the book appealing? Joan liked Rocky (!) but Vivian pointed out that he was a bit of a cad. Mildred liked Rocky because he paid attention to her but she realized that he took advantage of her too.
  • Is it a class issue when men think they’re so appealing or does it cut across class lines? Vivian replied that it manifests itself differently depending on the class of the male.
  • It was agreed that marriage can be a burden but being single can be as well.
  • Sharon pointed out how Mildred was always cleaning up other people’s messes, literally and figuratively.
  • Did Mildred love Julian? Not really. Was she happy? Yes! Marriage doesn’t appeal to everyone. (Cathy offered that in a future book, Mildred and Everard are married and live in Africa.)
  • Mildred’s view of life (page 113): “…life was like that for most of us – the small unpleasantnesses rather than the great tragedies; the little useless longings rather than the great renunciations and dramatic love affairs of history or fiction.”
  • Mildred thinks that, if she were to be with Everard, she would end up peeling potatoes and washing up for him. “Was any man worth this burden? Probably not, but one shouldered it bravely and cheerfully and in the end it might turn out to be not so heavy after all.” (page 287)
  • What did the church offer Mildred? A safe place to find companionship and purpose.
  • Would a series of Barbara Pym books make for a good PBS series? Yes, if it maintains the dry humor.
  • Is there anything offensive about Mildred? No, but today’s women would give her a hard time.
  • Was she stuffy? Yes, but it was surprising that she let Rocky into her apartment since she hardly knew him.

The book earned a 3.0 rating. The general feeling was that it was a light book, a comedy of manners, but vividly described and beautifully written. Happy Birthday was sung to Cathy and Tina, who share a birthday (November 11) while all enjoyed Liz’s cake and Sharon’s delicate cookies.

Next Meeting: Wednesday, November 2, beginning at 5:00 p.m. Joan has indicated that she may still be in NJ at that time, in which case the meeting will be at her house. If the Swensens have already departed for Florida by December 2, the meeting will be at Lois’s house. Stay tuned! Food assignments for the December meeting will be announced once we know where it will take place.

Next book: The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett, chosen by Barbara. If you finish early, you might want to start January’s book, selected by Tina: The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante. The February selection will be made by Marilyn (and some are hoping that she will choose Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse).

A note about the January date: The first meeting of 2016 falls on Wednesday, January 6, but because Liz and Tina will be unable to attend, the feeling was to change the date to January 13. Please let us know if this date does not work for you. The January meeting will be at Vivian’s or Tina’s.

Submitted by Tina Segali

November 8, 2015