Original date of publication: 1953
My edition: 1981 (Dutton)
Why I decided to read: I’ve enjoyed other books by Barbara Pym
How I acquired my copy: The Philadelphia Book Trader, August 2010
Jane and Prudence is the story of two friends—Jane is a middle-aged clergyman’s wife, and Prudence is a spinster at the age of 29, “an age that is often rather desperate for a woman who has not yet married.” When Jane and her husband move to a small parish, they meet a widower named Fabian Driver, with whom Jane wants to set Prudence up. This novel is a very quiet satire of love and romance and the constant search for them.
Jane and Prudence’s friendship is an unlikely one, and it’s hard to see why, exactly, they’re friends (beyond the fact that they met at Oxford). In addition, I kept wondering why Jane would want to set up her good friend with someone who’s a known womanizer. Still, she means well. I think the interplay between the two main characters is well done. Of the two, I think I prefer Jane with her hapless housekeeping over Prudence, who seems a bit arrogant at times. I think in a different age (say, ours), Prudence would be just anther career woman living in London (and she’d have a much better job). If she lived today, though, there would still be a focus on getting her set up with a boyfriend or husband, so not much has changed there.
I did also like Nicholas, Jane’s husband, who puts up with Jane’s flaws with an admirable amount of patience. There’s a lot of humor in this book, but some of it is downright mean at times.
Still, Barbara Pym is at her best when she’s talking about the relationships between men and women. She has some very interesting things to say about the state of being married, or not. I think the reason why Barbara Pym’s novels appeal to people even today is that her themes are so wide-ranging and timeless.