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Pym, Barbara

church account novels village

(British, 1913–80)

After graduating from Oxford, Pym spent most of her working life in London, then retired to live with her sister in an Oxfordshire village where, like many of the characters in her novels, she devoted herself to church, gardening, local history, and country walks. She is a subtle and engaging chronicler of middle-class manners whose fiction went out of print during the 1960s despite its readability and wit. In 1977 she made a comeback as the author of splendid English social comedies. Begin with A Glass of Blessings (1958), which is about the married but bored Wilmet Forsyth, an endearingly respectable but reckless woman who is drawn to the three unmarried priests in her Anglo-Catholic church, then on to the enigmatic Piers, with nearly disastrous results. Although it had been written earlier, The Sweet Dove Died (1978) was published after Pym's rediscovery. Its heroine is the glamorous but rash Leonora, who is entangled with the antique dealer, Humphrey, and his nephew, James, whom she tries to captivate against the odds. The ninth of Pym's eleven published novels, Quartet in Autumn (1977), was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. More sombre in tone than the others, it is a poignant yet sparkling account of two men and two women in their sixties who are all facing retirement. Completed shortly before Pym died, A Few Green Leaves (1980) is an affectionate account of the changes in contemporary village life, as seen through the eyes of the anthropologist heroine.

Jane Austen, Elizabeth Taylor, Ivy-Compton Burnett  JN

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