If you have not yet indulged yourself with Miss Pym, then do so, if you like a leisurely few hours. She writes with humour and gentle irony. An Austen for the mid 1950's, she has a cool and precise eye for female foibles and self deceptions but she is not malicious. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of the Church of England and the lost world of country parishes. The small aspirations of graduates are pointedly dealt with. A gentle read.
I appreciate that this isn't for everyone. If you're looking for something edgy, dramatic or action-packed you'll definitely be disappointed. The book depicts middle class, village life in the 1950s set around the church. Yawn, yawn you may think. However, I loved the dry wit and underlying irony in every paragraph. Sure, not a lot actually happens and it seems far removed from the way we live today, but it's an entertaining read. It doesn't have the richness of Jane Austen novels but I enjoyed stepping into another, more genteel world, and Pym has the same ability as Austen of observing the absurdness of everyday behaviours.
This is a wonderful book, a very English setting, and some very English characters who inhabit a world that is gone forever. Prudence is a character many of us can sympathise with, her past littered with disappointments. Her interfering friend Jane - who is much older, married with an almost grown up daughter, is keen to help her become settled. Jane despite her being a middle aged clergy wife is still wonderfully romantic, and it demonstrates superbly, how, no matter how we age, and take on various responsibilities, we still have the same concerns as in our youth. This is the second Barbara Pym novel I have read - and I am now keen to read them all
A novel that gives the authentic flavour of the middle class gentility in the 1950s. If this sounds dull, it really isn't.
Her anthropological view of the society she is examining is so wry, pitiless but so humorous (She worked at the International African Institute in London for some years, and played a large part in the editing of its scholarly journal, Africa, hence the frequency with which anthropology/anthropologists crop up in her novels, and maybe foregrounds her social criticism.) The hopeless vagaries of men of the cloth as well as academics come under her scornful microsopic scrutiny. Her single women, devout and well-meaning, live lives of virtuous 'quiet desperation'.
Her writing is succinct and clear, hardly a word wasted. She has often been compared to Jane Austen, but she also shares the sharp eye of Waugh in a novel like "A Handful of Dust'.
I look on this book as social history. It is a world of coy euphemisms about sex-'Are you his mistress?' asks Jane of Prudence. Underneath the coyness there is a wonderful sharp observation. We meet again the manipulative Miss Morrow from Crampton Hodnett,unpublished till after Pym's death. We hear of Miss Lathbury's marriage to one of the anthropologists prominent in,I think, Excellent Women. The attraction men have for women is better explored here than in most books. The handsome,mediocre,dull,superficially charming,narcissistic Fabian is nabbed by plain Miss M from attractive Prudence. An explanation is offered-there is only room for one beautiful person in a relationship.This explains a lot when considers some celebrities. Jane,the vicar's wife,manages in spite of being utterly undomesticated. The greatest point of contention seems to be the 'conflict' between low church and high church, with the dreaded Rome at one end and Chapel at the other. Are there,or were there really people so obsessed with this? Must have been. My only criticism is one appallingly dull conversation at a social gathering. I expect it's completely realistic, but I did begin to wish the participants would realise how dull they were and go home or something I did very much enjoy this book,though. It is very funny and so true in its observation of the tiny things that people do and say.
I have only very recently come to Barbara Pym's work, and am loving everything i have read so far. Don't expect strong plots, these are delicate works of everyday life at the time, i think the comparisons with Jane Austen are reasonable, except that more dramatic things tend to happen in Jane Austen's books!- I think these are more like english versions of Colette in the loving detail of clothes, interiors , food, and the manners of the times. I think the real strength is that the events and characters are viewed from a strong feminine perspective, often providing a light touch critique of male behaviour and self-belief at the time, and yet I wouldn't necessarily say they fit into the feminist canon.I would strongly recommend her to new readers, and Jane and Prudence would be as good a place to start as anywhere.
Barbara Pym was a writer that I had always meant to read but never quite got around to it. I picked up 'Some Tame Gazelle' in a charity shop and have never looked back. Pym is one of the most subtle writers I have ever come across. 'A Glass of Blessings' is my favourite of her books. In Wilmet Forsyth, Pym has created a charming and naive heroine. Her observations on the world around her, somehow never quite getting it, are funny and little sad. I think Pym is particularly good at capturing dress, cocktails, manners and details of the 50s that provide a real insight to the era. Do read this lovely novel!