Barbara Pym’s Hymn

Karl Miller

Several authors have died in the course of Britain’s current and by now customary hard winter. V.S. Pritchett writes, nearby, about one of them, and I would like to write about another – the novelist, Barbara Pym. To think of her in relation to a literary world, with its apparatus of publicity and reward, gives a sense of incongruity, but, of course, there’s a tale that hangs on the connection – the story of how this world turned from her in middle age, after her work of the Fifties, which was indeed ‘of the Fifties’ to a degree that was barely understood at the time. In the altered climate of the following decade she lapsed from book pages and publishers’ lists, but rose again, to fame, when readers were alerted to her fiction by the commendations of two admirers, Philip Larkin and David Cecil. Having been out, she became ‘the in-thing to read’, and reviewers rushed to praise the late novel Quartet in Autumn – now in paperback – as if it were a match for her early work.[*]

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[*] Quartet in Autumn. Panther, 1980. £1.25.

[†] Jane and Prudence. Cape, 222 pp., £4.95, 25 October 1979, 0 224 01768 3.
No Fond Return of Love. Cape, 254 pp., £4.95, 25 October 1979, 0 224 01769 1.