A number of years ago, I read a few Barbara Pym books. I enjoyed them so much I decided to go back and read her books in chronological order. Some Tame Gazelle (1950), her first published novel, has been waiting patiently on my shelf for nearly 7 years now. It took a pandemic to give me the time as well as the desire to embrace another Pym comfort read!
One of the elements in Some Tame Gazelle that appealed to me was knowing that she wrote the book imagining what she and her sister, Hilary, might be like thirty years older. Naturally this made me curious to know a little bit more about Pym and her sister.
Barbara Mary Crampton Pym was born on the 2nd June 1913 and died on the 11th of January 1980.
She was the eldest daughter of a Shropshire couple who encouraged her creative efforts from a young age. Hilary was born in 1916.
During WWII, Pym served in the Women’s Royal Navy Service. In 1944 she was posted to Naples for the duration of the war. When she returned to London, she moved into a Pimlico flat with her sister, who was recovering from a broken marriage. Pym had her own share of romantic affairs, but none of them stuck.
She wrote social comedies featuring unmarried women living alone in a community of clergymen and college types. Mavis Cheek wrote the Introduction in my copy of Some Tame Gazelle
and claimed that ‘as with all the best writers of comedy, she is non-judgemental and, though beady-eyed, she is also sympathetic, particularly in matters of the heart and how foolishly they can make us ac
t.’ I suspect her sympathy may have came from hard-won personal experience.
Pym was a popular post-war writer until her work went out of favour in the more modern times of the 1960’s. In 1977 however, everything changed, when she was nominated as the most under-rated writer of the century by Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin.
She is buried beside her sister (Hilary died in 2004) in a cemetery in Finstock, Oxfordshire.
Some Tame Gazelle was written in 1935 and features two fifty-something women living quietly in a small English village, where the goings-on in their local Anglican church absorb all their attention. One sister becomes ridiculously attached to each new young curate assigned to their parish; while the other carries a torch for the Archdeacon, her once upon a time beau, now married to another – the rather odious, Agatha. One spends her time berating herself for thinking unkind thoughts about Agatha; the other is busy knitting vests and scarves for the latest curate.
It’s all very charming and rather sweet. There’s a suffusing warmth and tenderness that I don’t remember from her other books. Certainly, a few days in the company of Belinda and Harriet Bede, was the perfect antidote to the Covid-19 lockdown blues.
If you love Angela Thirkell or E. M. Delafield, then Pym is the gal for you too!
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