I love the novels of Barbara Pym immensely. Barbara Pym could make mundane things endlessly fascinating. The author of this bio could not. It was rather a bit of a snooze.
The ‘Miss Pym’ construction was used far too frequently and was cutesy in a way that diminishes the subject. From the title, to the text, to chapter titles, to photo captions. It was too much.
That Pym had Nazi sympathies is a fact that the author justly writes about. However, the way she writes about Pym’s Nazi boyfriend and her infatuation with Nazi Germany was also a little too cute and casual than is seemly in the 21st century.
“Pym was mesmerized by the handsome blackshirt…” Not sure that adjective is called for unless clearly qualified as being Pym’s perception, which is borne out by the block quote that follows it. Why did Byrne call him handsome?
“Barbara was…swept up in the excitement of the Third Reich…” Maybe swap out excitement for propaganda.
A chapter title: “In which Fraulein Pym falls for a Handsome Nazi” Perhaps the author doesn’t need to excoriate Pym on every page for being a Nazi sympathizer, but she also doesn’t have to make light of it either.
“It was a spectacular event, the Nazi Party had pulled out all the stops.” Did they really Paula? We must find out who their party planner is.
Another chapter title: “In which our Heroine goes to Germany for the third time and sleeps with her Nazi” Oh how cute! He’s her Nazi.
And then in describing the douchebaggery of Pym’s English love interests Byrne writes this: “…she was headed back to Germany, where she was sure of receiving better treatment at the hands of her blackshirt boyfriend.” Really?
When it comes to Pym’s penchant for falling in love with gay men, I don’t know how annoyed I should be with Pym or with Byrne for making it seem like Pym’s driving force was simply to move from one infatuation to another. I’d like to think that Pym had more going on in her life than just that. Maybe it was the author’s over reliance on personal journals that makes Pym seem like an emotional simpleton who couldn’t pass the Bechdel Test if her life depended on it.
Pym’s life was Pym’s life, if that’s who she was, so be it. But Byrne’s way of writing about ‘homosexuals’ got to be annoying in the extreme. Try this one: “She was especially interested in his homosexual relationship with Eric Oliver.” Guess what Miss Byrne, it’s just a relationship. Maybe you meant to say romantic or sexual or something else. Pym can use antiquated language, she’s dead, and she wrote those lines 60 years ago. But Byrne is only two years older than I am. Too young to be that oblivious. You’d think she was 107.
I will end this where I started it, Pym’s bio didn’t have to be this boring.