Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym

Virago Modern Classic #531


This is the story of two women, Jane and Prudence, who became friends when Jane was Prudence’s tutor at Oxford.

Jane has recently moved with her husband, Nicholas, and her daughter to the village where he has just become the new vicar. She is an academic and not a natural housekeeper, but she wants to support her husband in her role of “vicar’s wife”.

Prudence is single woman who lives alone in a London flat and words in a dull office. She likes fine things, takes care over her clothes and grooming, and dreams her married employer.

When Prudence comes to stay with Jane, Jane encourages her friend to set her cap at with the recently-widowed Fabian Driver. But a spinster of the parish, Jessie Morrow, is not to be thwarted in her own plans to ‘land’ Mr. Driver.

Prudence is disappointed, but far from heartbroken, and moves on with her life.

This is lovely comedy of manners, with writing succinct and clear and not a word wasted.

The plot is simple but the joy is in the details – the vicar and his wife eating out because they don’t know what to do on the help’s day off, the conversations of the group of ladies of the parish dealing with the late Mrs. Driver’s possessions, the interaction of colleagues in Prudence’s office …..

And as always with Barbara Pym, characters and situations are beautifully observed

I enjoyed “Jane and Prudence” and, while I don’t feel it is one of Barbara Pym’s strongest books, it is still a wonderful journey into the very different lives of the English middle-classes of the 1950s.

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