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Barbara Pym (Barbara Mary Crampton Pym) Biography

(1913–80), (Barbara Mary Crampton Pym), Some Tame Gazelle, Excellent Women, Jane Prudence, Less Than Angels

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British novelist, educated at St Hilda's College, Oxford. Pym's first published novel was Some Tame Gazelle (1950), followed by Excellent Women (1952); Jane Prudence (1953); Less Than Angels (1955); A Glass of Blessings (1958); and No Fond Return of Love (1961). These are wry comedies of middle-class life, often with tragic undertones, extraordinarily observant and with a breadth of emotional and psychological content that the classical and ironic style of presentation would not, at a casual reading, seem to suggest. Her father was a Shropshire solicitor and Pym's world is that of members of the professions, drawing also on her experience of anthropological circles, and centring to a considerable degree around the Anglican Church. Her protagonists are often single women of a certain age, frequently suffering the pangs of unrequited love. The appearance in a Pym novel of characters from a previous one heightens the effect of a real, mapped society. In 1963 her publisher rejected An Unsuitable Attachment—the beginning of a long period of neglect. Then in 1977 the Times Literary Supplement invited contributors to name the most undervalued writers of the century; when Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin nominated Barbara Pym, that led to a reversal of fortune. The novels which appeared after that renascence are more sombre in tone. Quartet in Autumn (1977), a poignant and melancholy study of ageing and death, was followed by The Sweet Dove Died (1978), a study in selfishness and self-deception, and A Few Green Leaves (published posthumously, 1980). An Unsuitable Attachment was eventually published in 1982. Since then, Pym's friend, Hazel Holt, has edited her journals and letters, published as A Very Private Eye (1984). Admirers compare Pym with Jane Austen; detractors see her growing posthumous reputation as an index of British contempt for the experimental and intellectual in fiction.

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