The Big Pym-Re-Read:A Glass of Blessings

April was balmy and delicious, and cruel in the way the poet did mean, mingling memory and desire. The memory was of other springs, the desire unformulated, unrecognized almost, pushed away because there seemed to be no place for it in the life I had chosen for myself.

One day Rowena and I met to have a cosy women’s shopping lunch together. She had come up to town to buy new clothes for the children, but when I met her in our favourite restaurant she admitted that she had spent the whole morning buying things for herself and nothing for the children at all.

‘And this afternoon we’re having our hair done,’ I reminded her, for we were going together to my hairdresser who was to create elegant new hairstyles for us.

‘Oh this weather,’ Rowena sighed, pulling off her pale yellow gloves. ‘It makes one so unsettled. One ought to be in Venice with a lover!’

‘Of course,’ I agreed. ‘Whom would you choose?’

There was a pause, then we both burst out simultaneously, ‘Rocky Napier!’
and dissolved into helpless giggles.

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The Big Pym-Re-Read: Jane and Prudence

jane and prudence(This is definitely going to be less rambling than the post I wrote for Excellent Women! I shall try to keep it short.)

Jane and Prudence are friends who met at university when Jane was Prudence’s tutor.

The book opens with Jane and Prudence at a college reunion. Jane is forty-one, Prudence twenty-nine. The former is married to her university sweetheart, Nicholas Cleveland, now a Church of England vicar. Prudence is personal assistant to an academic, Arthur Grampian, and is in love with him.Read More »

The Big Pym-Re-Read: Excellent Women, Part 2

This post contains spoilers!

Archdeacon Horcleve
Gerard Manley Hopkins fits the bill for many of Pym’s vicars!

What is a Pym novel with no mention of the clergy?

Julian Mallory is the vicar of Mildred’s parish. He is about forty, ‘tall, thin and angular’; High Church (much to the dismay of some of his parishioners), and prefers to be referred to as ‘Father’.

Father Mallory lives with his unmarried sister, Winifred who is a close friend of Mildred’s. As he is single, it is assumed that he believes in the celibacy of the clergy. However, when the Mallorys rent out the upper floor of the vicarage to a widow called Allegra Gray, Julian Mallory eventually becomes engaged to her.

Mrs Gray tells Mildred about the engagement. She and Julian Mallory think that Mildred will be upset by the news because, of course, being unmarried and close to the Mallorys, it is assumed that she would want the vicar for herself. <<eyeroll>>Read More »

The Big Pym-Re-Read: Some Tame Gazelle

Some tame gazelleWhile Less Than Angels is about a community of anthropologists, Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym’s first published novel, features her other favourite profession, the clergy.

The main characters, however, are spinsters, another Pym speciality, in this case, a pair of sisters called Harriet and Belinda Bede.

Harriet, the older sister, is plump, attractive, garrulous, and rather more flamboyant than the quiet, mousy, self-effacing and reflective Belinda.

Harriet has a fondness for young curates, a completely respectable regard, mind you, taking the innocent form of mothering these men of the cloth, inviting them for tea and dinner, and presenting them with gifts of knitted socks and sweaters, fruit, and homemade jams.

Meanwhile, Belinda loves their neighbour and the vicar of their parish, Archdeacon Henry Hoccleve. Belinda has been friends with the Archdeacon since they were at university together, and has remained steadfast for thirty years. Alas, he is married to the formidable Agatha, whom Belinda views with a combination of awe and fear.

Archdeacon HorcleveIn the first chapter of the novel we are introduced to Harriet’s latest young curate, Edgar Donne (I picture him looking like the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins [right]. Bizarrely, I also picture the Archedeacon looking like Hopskins!), who has come to the Bede’s for supper, and, as the book progresses, we meet the other characters, part of the Bede’s circle, including Henry and Agatha Horcleve; Count Ricardo Bianco, an Italian nobleman settled in their village, who is in love with Harriet and proposes to her regularly and in vain; Edith Liversidge, a ‘decayed gentlewoman’, and her poor relation, the dreary harp-playing Connie Aspinall who will not stop speaking of her days as companion to a lady in Belgrave Square.Read More »

The Big Pym-Re-Read: Less Than Angels

Pym68

I haven’t really blogged about Barbara Pym’s novels and, now that I have physical copies for all of them, I thought I would do a big re-read and then write a post about each book.

I chose Less Than Angels at random, but after this I will read the novels in order of publication:

  • Some Tame Gazelle (1950)
  • Excellent Women (1952)
  • Jane and Prudence (1953)
  • Less than Angels (1955)
  • No Fond Return of Love (1961)
  • Quartet in Autumn (1977)
  • The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
  • A Few Green Leaves (1980)
  • An Unsuitable Attachment (written 1963; published posthumously, 1982)
  • Crampton Hodnet (completed circa 1940, published posthumously, 1985)
  • An Academic Question (written 1970–72; published posthumously, 1986)
  • Civil to Strangers (written 1936; published posthumously, 1987)

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