Jane and Prudence

“‘We can only go blundering along in that state of life into which it shall please God to call us,’ said Jane. ‘I was going to be such a splendid clergyman’s wife when I married you, but somehow it hasn’t turned out like The Daisy Chain or The Last Chronicles of Barset.'”

I had heard the name Barbara Pym mentioned around on the blogosphere before, and after seeing the byline “a twentieth-century Jane Austen” I knew I would have to give her a try. Jane and Prudence won out at the library because I love the vintage feel of the cover pattern. It seems, however, to include minor characters from er earlier book Crampton Hodnet.

The novel focuses on two old college friends: Jane, an erratic vicar’s wife whose husband has just gotten a new living in the country, and Prudence, a younger single woman working as a secretary in London and in love with her married boss. Jane believes that the wealthy widower in her new neighborhood is the perfect antidote for her moping friend, but the relationship might not go quite as smoothly as she expected.

My first impression was that I didn’t love the book as well as I might have, given the billing. I did, however, really enjoy it. As the title suggests, Jane and Prudence focuses more on character than plot. Jane has good intentions but lacks poise and occasionally even good sense.  She is overwhelmed by the requirements of her role and has a tendency to put her foot in her mouth that is sometimes painful for the reader. Luckily she is well-suited to her absent-minded husband, but their daughter Flora is outgrowing them into a capable young woman.

Prudence, by contrast, is so cultured and composed that their friendship is surprising. With her lack of familial obligation and fondness for gauzy dressing gowns she is quite the independent woman, but at times seems almost ashamed of that status as she approaches that dreaded thirty. Each woman must envy the other just a little bit. As for eligible widower, Fabian (who I cannot take seriously with a name like that), the question of his past infidelities needs to be cleared up before he can be considered seriously.

Jane and Prudence isn’t quite up there with the works of Jane Austen or Angela Thirkell for me, but it is quite delightful. Barbara Pym creates that same sense of a small world with well-drawn characters and accurate observations. She also sprinkles in several literary references thanks to Jane’s academic past.  I did like that the ending wasn’t resolved neatly, as it allows the reader to believe that the characters and the story go on.

When I first started reading the book I had to keep reminding myself which woman was which. Somehow it seemed that switching the names would have better suited the characters, which I suppose is personal bias! After all, every Prudence was once young, and every Jane will age.

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Published in: on March 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] Jane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym […]


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