July 2013 coming upThis photo gives the lie, doesn’t it. Well, I started reading “A Very Private Eye” just before this Month of Re-Reading, and all of these are in fact re-reads. Basically, I panicked just before going to the Barbara Pym conference, and threw “Crampton Hodnett” (a full novel published posthumously) and “Civil to Strangers” (a collection of a couple of three complete novels, one unfinished work and some short stories) into my rucksack at the last minute. I know I must have read them when I bought them back in the 1990s, but I certainly haven’t done since, and was unsure of their contents. As it happened, I managed to read only part of “Crampton Hodnett” before the conference, but never mind …

Barbara Pym – “Crampton Hodnett”

(7 Jan 1993)

A very early novel, published after Pym’s death, this is a hilarious portrait of North Oxford life with Miss Doggett and Miss Morrow, who were recycled for “Jane and Prudence“, taking centre stage.

We find the classic Pym clergymen and their wives, women who are bad at being a wife, happy, wry spinsters and of course a curate, described deliciously here at one point as resembling a satisfied marmalade cat, with the addition of the adoration of a professor by his clever student and a delightfully waspish Bodleian librarian. Heavily edited by Hazel Holt, it remains a good, fun read, with plenty to say about love and marriage, spinsters and wives, and fussy and foolish men, with some great characters and some interesting insights into what Pym’s women actually do want out of their relationships with men.

Barbara Pym – “A Very Private Eye” (ed. Hilary Pym and Hazel Holt)

(? No indication as to where I got this. I suspect the book stall in Greenwich, but I’m not sure)

An autobiography collected by Barbara Pym’s sister and executrix out of her diaries and letters, this is of necessity not as selective or well-shaped as a conventional biography would be. Some of the student writings were pretty gushy, and I found the Stevie Smith-like letters to Elsie almost unbearably pathetic in their attempts at cheer and not caring about her marriage to Pym’s love, Henry; but I did love the letters to Larkin, although I would have liked to read his to her, too), even though the inclusion of these, diary entries and letters to another correspondent gave rather a repetitive effect at times. There was a lot of good detail about the writing of all of her books, the background to Quartet in Autumn being particularly interesting (this from someone who claims not to want to know about the authorial intent – oh well!).

On this repetition, I suppose that in 1984, with Pym gone 4 years previously and the posthumous publication of “Civil to Strangers”, etc., not yet completed, this gave people want they wanted – as much more of Pym’s words and writings as they could possibly get. You can’t really argue with that.

I loved the glimpses of Iris Murdoch (of course), and also of Paul Binding, who I met at the Pym Conference, and who actually introduced BP to IM, at his house!

Barbara Pym – “Civil to Strangers”

(9 January 1993)

This substantial book contains the title novel, a well-done study of a taken-for-granted wife with increasingly clear sight and a perhaps inadvisable trip to Budapest; the autobiographically based what-if novel, “Gervase and Flora”, set in Finland and re-writing early disappointment as created by the disappointed one, looking for a sort of closure; the unfinished “Home Front Novel”, with its detailed portrayal of a village in wartime; and the madcap spy novel, “So Very Secret”, which is competently plotted but surely both written and read for the characters; plus some pleasing short stories which look at old love revisited, show us Mark and Sophia Ainger and Faustina from “An Unsuitable Attachment” in later life, and are all very interesting; and an essay about developing her voice.

Slightly patchy on the whole, but we must remember that they were unpublished at Pym’s death, except for certain short stories, and they do, of course, give us more of Pym, which is what we all want, really, isn’t it!