Tuesday, August 13, 2013
On Barbara Pym
As readers of this blog know, Barbara Pym is one of my all-time favorite authors. On 7/7/13, on the occasion of the recent centenary of her birth, I wrote about some of the reasons I so appreciate and enjoy her work, not to mention laugh out loud while I am reading it. Her novels are serious but also understatedly hilarious at times. I have read each of the novels at least twice over the years, but the centenary inspired me to decide to re-read all her novels yet again, this time in order of the year of publication in the UK (not necessarily in order of the years they were actually written, or of when they were published in the USA). I have re-read the first six so far: “Some Tame Gazelle” (1950); “Excellent Women” (1952); “Jane and Prudence” (1953); “Less Than Angels” (1955); “A Glass of Blessings” (1958); and “No Fond Return of Love” (1961). I will not be posting about each of these, and the ensuing novels, individually, as I have written about Pym's work before, and individual posts about each of a dozen novels might be too much. But I will point out a few more of the reasons I admire and savor Pym’s novels: She writes about the small events of everyday life, the things we actually spend most of our time on, and makes us care about them, as well as smile with recognition. She writes about a variety of love that is not often written about: the kind of innocent crushes most of us sometimes get, even when we are in relationships and even when the objects of our crushes are unsuitable; we don’t plan to do anything about them, but they add to the pleasures of life. She often has her characters quote a few lines of English poetry, which are often just slightly off-topic or misunderstood, but also demonstrate Pym’s deep knowledge of, and true love of, poetry. She writes a lot about what people eat and drink, including the ubiquitous, always-soothing cup of tea apparently so necessary to the English people (I happen to share this tea-loving characteristic with the English, and my love of tea is somehow bound up with my love of the British novel). Characters from one novel often make cameo appearances in later novels. And in a "meta" style and for fun, Pym sometimes indirectly refers to herself and her own work. For example, in one novel she refers to a novelist called Miss Pim; in another, she lists the books on someone’s bookshelf, and casually includes her own “Some Tame Gazelle.” I reiterate my urging that readers find and read one or more of her novels, so they can see why I recommend her fiction so highly. As I suggested in my 7/7/13 post, I recommend beginning with “Excellent Women.” And, incidentally, I may find I like this plan of re-reading a favorite author’s works in order, and might decide to do the same with some of my other most-cherished authors’ works. On another note: This post is my 800th on this blog.