I first met Barbara Pym thanks to Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust. At the time I was in my early 30s and hadn’t really developed my penchant for the kind of fiction that I most like now. I was still a bit stuck in one of those typically late 20s kind of reading loops that relied on the “in” literary novel of the moment coupled with lots of canonical books that I had never read in college or grad school. And although I had already embarked on my love affair with Anita Brookner, it was still early days for me. I hadn’t quite grown to fully appreciate the character-driven, plot-optional, novels that so permeate my reading life these days.
So I may have been a little too young for my first date with Barbara in 2002. I checked out Crampton Hodnet from the library, and while I enjoyed the experience, I really didn’t remember too much about it. But there must have been something about it since I picked up A Glass of Blessing five months later. I followed up in 2004 with Jane and Prudence, but it really wasn’t until I read Some Tame Gazelle while in the south of France in 2009 that I really began to appreciate just how brilliant Barbara Pym’s novels are. Since then I have read Excellent Women and The Sweet Dove Died and reread CH, AGoB and JaP. But that is a story best left for later this week.
Since Pym’s publishing history is a bit odd to say the least, I thought it might be helpful to provide a list of her fiction. She had six novels published in the UK between 1950 and 1961. But then her publisher Jonathan Cape declined to publish her next two novels and so did everyone else. It wasn’t until 1977 when both Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin cited Pym as the an underrated author in a piece in the Times Literary Supplement. Pym was the only author to be mentioned twice and it thrust her work back into the spotlight and provided new publishing opportunities not only in the UK, but she was also published in the US for the first time.
Pym’s Fiction in the order it was written…
Since the information varies from place to place, I have relied here on the publishing history in Hazel Holt’s wonderful biography of Pym A Lot to Ask. Publishing dates are for first issue. Note how long it took some of her work to find its way to America. Anything after 1980 was published posthumously.
Some Tame Gazelle (Written 1935-50 / first published UK 1950 / first published US 1983)
Civil to Strangers (1936-8 / 1987 / 1987)
Crampton Hodnet (1937-8 / 1987 / 1987)
Excellent Women (1949-51 / 1952 / 1978)
Jane and Prudence (1950-2 / 1953 / 1981)
Less Than Angels (1953-4 / 1955 / 1980)
A Glass of Blessing (1955-6 / 1958 / 1980)
No Fond Return of Love (1957-60 / 1961 / 1982)
An Unsuitable Attachment (1960-5 / 1982 / 1982)
The Sweet Dove Died (1963-9 / 1978 / 1979)
An Academic Question (1970-1 / 1986 / 1986)
Quartet in Autumn (1973-6 / 1977 / 1978)
A Few Green Leaves (1977-9 / 1980 / 1980)
How wonderful that you met Miss Pym through Nancy Pearl! I picked up my first Pym read, No Fond Return of Love, a year or two ago, encouraged by Kerry of Pickle Me This, a member of the Barbara Pym society (who also, incidentally, got me to read my first Penelope Lively)
I read Excellant Women about 15 years ago through the recommendation of Kiki, who worked at Vroman's in Pasadena. I later passed it on to my then 16 year old daughter, who became obsessed with the book, having read it at least 4 or 5 times. (How does a teenage girl identify so strongly with Mildred?) One Christmas, all she wanted was every Barbara Pym, which she quickly devoured. I, for some unknown reason, have never read another Pym, so I'm totally down with Some Tame Gazelle this week! (The lady you meet with her daughter at Sissinghurst last summer. Almost a good title for a book).
I first met Barbara Pym in 1987. I was working in a law firm in NYC as a paralegal, my first job after college. A young associate, hearing that I was an Anglophile said you must love Barbara Pym books then. I'd never heard of her but I checked one of her books i dont remember which one , out of the library and I was hooked. Im Thankful for that recommendation after all these years and I try to recommend Pym others .
Melwyk: Has Nancy Pearl turned you on to any of your favorite reads?
Betsy: So nice to hear from you again. Any trips to England this year? So glad you are giving Pym another go. Your daughter must be excited.
Hockey Girl: It's always fun when a comment in passing leads to something more serious.