An excellent novel, Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. The phrase denotes women who are great but unmarriageable, and is used tongue-in-cheek by the narrator of the story, Mildred Lathbury, a capable spinster living in her own flat but sharing a bathroom with the downstairs flat. New neighbors move in, the Napiers, and disrupt Mildred’s quiet life. Helena is an anthropologist, quite independent, and finds herself in love with a man not her husband. Rocky is the husband, serving as a Naval officer in Italy and winding up home with Helena to find her attracted to Eduard. Mildred’s closest friends are the vicar’s sister and the vicar, and that relationship goes topsy-turvy when they take in a border, a widowed Mrs Grey who soon becomes engaged to the vicar but the relationship sours when Mrs Grey insists that Winifred, the sister, must find somewhere else to live. Through the drama, Mildred counts and recounts her blessings about not being married, having to defend herself against unjust accusations that she is in love with this or that man. Eduard invites her over for dinner in his flat but she can’t bear the thought of having to cook his dinner for him, so she declines. In the end, she’s there, taking the roast chicken out of the oven, dreaming up how her life will be as she helps him with this scholarly work.
One interesting bit I picked up is the use of “any road” as another way to say “anyway”: Mrs Morris says ‘Let’s have a fag, any road.’