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