6 June 2013

Barbara Pym and a Bit of Name Dropping...

My plans to read Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym were scuppered by the arrival of a package from Book Snob.  Inside was an irresistible copy of Dorothy Whipple's Every Good Deed featuring wicked 1950s dramatic cover art, you know the sort - bad girl with a devilish sideways glance and a car wreck.  It was such a fun read but today is not about Whipple! 

I found a collection of Pym's letters and diary entries in a bin of used books while in Stratford, Ontario, a few years ago.  The owner of the small bookshop there was pleased it was going to an appreciative reader.  He said his mother described Pym's work like a 'warm, brown sweater'.  I can only suppose that she found them to be 'cosy'.  Some of my favourite snippets are the ones with mention of other authors I admire, to my delight Elizabeth Taylor and Elizabeth Bowen seem to pop up a fair bit.

From A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Letter and Diaries...

5 June 1946

'My dear Henry,

I have so much news that I had better just fling it at you in Compton-Burnett style.  Hilary and her husband have separated and my father has married again and given us a very nice stepmother of suitable age and a dear brother and sister, whom I have not met.'

To Philip Larkin...May 27, 1969

'Dear Philip,

I did go to the Roy. Soc. Lit. (how do Librarians abbreviate it, when they have to?) and was most interested to set foot in there and here Elizabeth Bowen give a very good and interesting talk, and see L. P. Hartley very much occupying the chair against a background of dusty dark blue velvet curtains.  And who were all those ladies in beautiful hats, not all Fellowes.  I'm sure, though many of them looked as if they ought to have been.  I was put in the second row (having arrived only just before it was due to start) so had little opportunity to look around me, but I was sitting just in front of Elizabeth Taylor, who I know, who had come with her husband.  Eliz. Bowen said that people never recognize themselves in novels (even if they have been 'put in') but I think one sometimes makes up a character and then he or she appears in the flesh, like a man now working in our Library, who is so like 'Mervyn' in my unpublished one, and even speak of 'Mother'.'

11 August, 1969

'Visit to Jane Austen's house with Bob.  I put my hand down on Jane's desk and bring it up covered with dust.  Oh that some of her genius might rub off on me!

5 May, 1977

'Dear Philip

...I've been reading the diaries of Evelyn Waugh - what a lot he drank, though he often felt ill after it or was even sick.  The book is too big to read in bed which is a pity;  As for fiction (usually of a size to read in bed) I haven't found anything very good lately.  Seeing all the reviews of these sexy American female novelists it makes me wonder if anyone will review mine!'

23 November, 1977

'Booker Prize.  James and Alan drove me to Claridge's.  Very spacious inside, white and gold and a roaring coal fire in a sort of hall.  In the ballroom a group had already assembled.  I had a gin and tonic and was introduced to Lettice Cooper, Penelope Lively and her husband....'


  1. How funny, I have that huge collection of Waugh's diaries, essays and articles here on my bookshelf too. It's on loan from the library and I can only dip in and out in small doses. I have A Very Private Eye here too but am planning to host a giveaway for it tomorrow on my blog. Two Pyms in a week was enjoyable but I think three would be too much!

  2. Elizabeth Bowen (who I still haven't read, shame on me!) pops up in a lot of unexpected places. She became friendly with Eudora Welty, which is probably a little more unexpected (I learned this from my Welty reading last year). I love the brown sweater analogy but she sometimes a kind of scratchy one! :)

  3. Thanks for sharing these, they add to my enjoyment of the week! Sweater analogy is so apt. Just finished Some Tame Gazelle and can see the resemblance. I did love the final little verse on the death of a pet poodle and the ease of replacement!

  4. I love the Jane Austen dust entry. I think it's Elizabeth Bowen's birthday today as well.

  5. Oh I liked the Jane Austen entry, too. I also completely agree that some books are just too big to read comfortably in bed!

  6. Lovely quotations! I wonder who "these sexy American female novelists" of 1977 were?!

  7. Can't wait to read this, have her novel Excellent Women and just won the autobiography of letters and diary entries over on Alex's blog, can't wait to indulge!