Barbara Pym books in order
Barbara Pym was a British author of women gender studies, and literary fiction.
Born in Oswestry, England, she attended St Hilda's College, Oxford, where she earned a degree in English Literature.
Passionate about writing from her teenage years, Pym finished writing her first novel, Some Tame Gazelle, at the age of 22—albeit without much luck with publishers.
She worked at the International African Institute in London, where she edited the scholarly journal, Africa. This could perhaps explain why anthropologists frequently showed up in her novels.
Pym's biggest breakthrough came when she was nominated by Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin as the most underrated writer of the century. This came after she wrote a famous article in the 1975 Times Literary Supplement.
She died on 11 January, 1980 after a long battle with breast cancer.
Genres: Literary Fiction, Women Gender Studies
- Some Tame Gazelle (1950)
- Excellent Women (1952)
- Jane and Prudence (1953)
- Less Than Angels (1955)
- A Glass of Blessings (1958)
- No Fond Return of Love (1961)
- Quartet in Autumn (1977)
- The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
- A Few Green Leaves (1980)
- An Unsuitable Attachment (1982)
- Crampton Hodnet (1985)
- An Academic Question (1986)
- Civil to Strangers And Other Writings (1987)
- A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters (1984)
Detailed book overview
Belinda and Harriet Bede live together in a small English village. Shy, sensible Belinda has been secretly in love with Henry Hoccleve—the poetry-spouting, married archdeacon of their church—for thirty years.
Belinda’s much more confident, forthright younger sister Harriet, meanwhile, is ardently pursued by Count Ricardo Bianco. Although she has turned down every marriageable man who proposes, Harriet still welcomes any new curate with dinner parties and flirtatious conversation. And one of the newest arrivals, the reverend Edgar Donne, has everyone talking.
A warm, affectionate depiction of a postwar English village, Some Tame Gazelle perfectly captures the quotidian details that make up everyday life. With its vibrant supporting cast, it’s also a poignant story of unrequited love.
Excellent Women is probably the most famous of Barbara Pym's novels. The acclaim a few years ago for this early comic novel, which was hailed by Lord David Cecil as one of 'the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the past seventy-five years,' helped launch the rediscovery of the author's entire work. Mildred Lathbury is a clergyman's daughter and a spinster in the England of the 1950s, one of those 'excellent women' who tend to get involved in other people's lives - such as those of her new neighbor, Rockingham, and the vicar next door. This is Barbara Pym's world at its funniest.
Jane Cleveland and Prudence Bates were close friends at Oxford University, but now live very different lives. Forty-one-year-old Jane lives in the country, is married to a vicar, has a daughter she adores, and lives a very proper life in a very proper English parish. Prudence, a year shy of thirty, lives in London, has an office job, and is self-sufficient and fiercely independent—until Jane decides her friend should be married. Jane has the perfect husband in mind for her former pupil: a widower named Fabian Driver.
But there are other women vying for Fabian’s attention. And Pru is nursing her own highly inappropriate desire for her older, married, and seemingly oblivious employer, Dr. Grampian. What follows is a witty, delightful, trenchant story of manners, morals, family, and female bonding that redefines the social novel for a new generation.
Catherine Oliphant writes for women’s magazines and lives comfortably with anthropologist Tom Mallow—although she’s starting to wonder if they’ll ever get married. Then Tom drops his bombshell: He’s leaving her for a nineteen-year-old student.
Though stunned by Tom’s betrayal, Catherine quickly becomes fascinated by another anthropologist, Alaric Lydgate, a reclusive eccentric recently returned from Africa. As Catherine starts to weigh her options, she must figure out who she is and what she really wants.
With a lively cast of characters and a witty look at the insular world of academia, this novel from the much-loved author of Excellent Women and other modern classics is filled with poignant, playful observations about the traits that separate us from our anthropological forebears—far fewer than we may imagine.
Wilmet Forsyth is bored. Bored with the everyday routine of her life. Bored with teatimes filled with local gossip. Bored with her husband, Rodney, a civil servant who dotes on her. But on her thirty-third birthday, Wilmet’s conventional life takes a turn when she runs into the handsome brother of her close friend.
Attractive and enigmatic, Piers Longridge is a mystery Wilmet is determined to solve. Rather than settling down, he lived in Portugal, then returned to England for a series of odd jobs. Driven by a fantasy of romance, the sheltered, naïve Englishwoman sets out to seduce Piers—only to discover that he isn’t the man she thinks he is.
As cozy as sharing a cup of tea with an old friend, A Glass of Blessings explores timeless themes of sex, marriage, religion, and friendship while exposing our flaws and foibles with wit, compassion, and a generous helping of love.
Dulcie Mainwearing is always helping others, but never looks out for herself - especially in the realm of love. Her friend Viola is besotted by the alluring Dr Aylwin Forbes, so surely it isn't prying if Dulcie helps things along?
Aylwin, however, is smitten by Dulcie's pretty young niece. And perhaps Dulcie herself, however ridiculous it may be, is falling, just a little, for Aylwin. Once life's little humiliations are played out, maybe love will be returned, and fondly, after all...
This is the story of four people in late middle-age - Edwin, Norman, Letty and Marcia - whose chief point of contact is that they work in the same office and they suffer the same problem - loneliness.
Lovingly, poignantly, satirically and with much humour, Pym conducts us through their small lives and the facade they erect to defend themselves against the outside world.
There is nevertheless an obstinate optimism in her characters, allowing them in their different ways to win through to a kind of hope. Barbara Pym's sensitive wit and artistry are at their most sparkling in "Quartet in Autumn".
Pym observed the intricate rituals of English life with a sharp but understanding eye.
In THE SWEET DOVE DIED, Pym uncovers the sometimes troubling truths behind relationships. A chance encounter over a Victorian flower book brings together Humphrey, and antiques dealer, his nephew James, and Leonora.
Although she is considerably older, Leonora develops a fondness for James all the while knowing Humphrey has feelings for her. Leonora is determined to keep James under her spell until she realizes that she has to contend with the bookish Phoebe.
Then Ned, a wicked young American, appears on the scene.
Barbara Pym was an incomparable chronicler of ordinary, quiet lives. With warmth, humour, precision and great vividness, she gave her best characters an independent life we recognise as totally familiar.
In A Few Green Leaves, her last novel, her heroine is Emma Howick, anthropologist. Through her eyes Barbara Pym examines in her own ironic and individual style the quiet revolution in English village life, combining the rural settings of her earliest novels with the themes and characters of her later works.
The result is a compelling portrait of a town that seems to be forgotten by time, but which is unmistakably affected by it.
Romance shares the pages with death in this engaging novel that is the culmination of Barbara Pym's acclaimed writing career.
Set in St Basil's, an undistinguished North London parish, An Unsuitable Attachment is indeed full of the high comedy for which Barbara Pym is famed.
There is Mark Ainger, the vicar, who introduces his sermons with remarks like 'Those of you who are familiar with the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.' His wife Sophia with her cat, 'I feel sometimes that I can't reach Faustina as I've reached other cats.' Rupert Stonebird, anthropologist and eligible bachelor. The well-bred Ianthe Broome who works at the library and forms an unsuitable attachment with a young man there. The sharp-tongue Mervyn Cantrell, chief librarian, who complains that 'when books have things spilt on them it is always bottled sauce or gravy of the thickest and most repellent kind rather than something utterly exquisite and delicious.'
There is also Daisy Pettigrew, the vet's sister, another obsessional cat person, and Sister Dew who bears a strong resemblance to Sister Blatt in Excellent Women.
Life has a certain reassuring if not terribly exciting rhythm for the residents of North Oxford. Miss Morrow is content in her position as spinster companion to Miss Doggett, even if her employer and the woman’s social circle regard her as a piece of furniture.
Stephen Latimer, the new cleric and Miss Doggett’s dashing new tenant, upsets the balance for Miss Morrow by proposing the long discounted possibility of marriage. Miss Doggett’s nephew, Mr. Francis Cleveland, is a handsome, middle-aged professor not destined for greatness in his field. He has a complaisant wife and an adoring pupil, a dangerous midlife combination.
The town gossips witness an impulsive declaration of love between Francis Cleveland and Miss Bird and conclude that Mr. Cleveland is willing to sacrifice marriage and respectability for the sake of passion. Caught in a potentially compromising situation with Miss Morrow, Mr. Latimer clumsily refers to a nonexistent town: Crampton Hodnet. His lie is harmless.
Caro is the wife of Dr. Alan Grimstone, a lecturer at a provincial university in a West Country town in England. She knows her circle believes that she should be doing more with her life. She is the mother of a young daughter but relieved to be able to leave the girl in the care of an au pair.
Her one selfless act--reading aloud to a former missionary at a rest home--is sullied when she allows her husband to ‘borrow’ some of the old gentleman’s papers in order to get the better of a colleague.
Caro’s sister is a social worker disinclined towards marriage and children, but is she happy? Despite appearances, Caro is content enough. Until she learns that that her husband Alan has a wandering eye.
What is happiness? The knowledge that one is loved, academic renown? Or is it friendship with eccentric friends and the sight of the first crocuses of spring or the Virginia creeper in autumn? Barbara Pym completed the first draft of her satirical “Academic Novel” in 1970, ten years before her death.
Thanks to his wife’s money, Adam Marsh-Gibbon leads a charmed life writing poetry and novels celebrated mostly by his fellow residents in the town of Up Callow in Shropshire, England.
His lovely wife Cassandra caters to his every whim, although perhaps not as enthusiastically as five years earlier, when she first married her handsome yet difficult and unappreciative husband.
Into their lives steps Mr. Stefan Tilos, the new tenant of Holmwood, a dashing Hungarian who puts the whole town in a flutter. How alarming then, that he should become so visibly enamored of Cassandra. Mrs. Marsh-Gibbon is certainly above reproach. Or is she?
The volume contains excerpts from Pym's letters, diaries, and notebooks from 1932 to 1979. The sections contain commentary by Holt and Hilary Pym to provide context on Pym's life, relationships, and career as a novelist.
Pym was a dedicated journalist, who detailed her daily life as well as observations about people around her which she might use for a future novel. Pym kept a formal diary separate to her writing observations from 1931 to 1948, after which time she recorded both personal and literary ideas in the same series of notebooks.
Most years of Pym's adult life are represented, although the diaries are limited for the period 1950–1962. During this era, as well as publishing six novels, Pym was working full-time at the International African Institute in London and thus had less time to devote to keeping her notebooks. In 1990, Hazel Holt published A Lot To Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym, her biography of Pym. The two books are designed to complement each other; thus, Holt focuses much of her time on the years 1950–1962, filling out the gaps in the text of A Very Private Eye.
Heavily featured are letters between Pym and the poet Philip Larkin. The two authors shared a two-decade correspondence from 1961 until Pym's death, although they did not meet in person until 1975.