of Barbara Pym

Barbara Pym. Some Tame Gazelle (1950), Excellent Women (1952), A Glass of Blessings (1958)

“Anyway, widows nearly always do marry again.”
“Oh, they have the knack of catching a man. Having done it once I suppose they can do it again. I suppose there’s nothing in it when you know how.”
“Like mending a fuse,” I suggested, though I had not previously taken this simple view of seeking and finding a life partner.

She’s funny. She’s undeniably funny.

Did we really need a cup of tea? I said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look. “Do we need tea?” she echoed. “But Miss Lathbury . . .” She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. If was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind. I mumbled something about making a joke and that of course one needed tea always, at every hour of the day or night.

And she’s very English. Barbara Pym, in fact, was an Oxford woman. She studied English at St. Hilda’s College just before WWII.

Of the three novels of Pym that I read in succession, I liked Some Tame Gazelle and heartily disliked A Glass of Blessings. Pym is a keen observer of people, and like Austen she is a tender-hearted one. She gently pokes fun at her people, but in a way that is threaded with pathos. Her big ideas are subtle–the way that two unmarried elderly sisters each must find “something to love” in Some Tame Gazelle is very quietly iterated.

I’m not certain that she is a “truth-teller”: when a married woman entertains thoughts of another man in A Glass of Blessings it is true that it is not painted as admirable, but she seems to approve Belinda Bede’s love for a married man in Some Tame Gazelle–or does she show it to be ridiculous?

I think I must read Jane and Prudence before I have done as some claim as it is touted as her best, but the other three Pyms I found at the library will wait for another day . . . if ever.

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