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Elspeth Barker, 9 April 1992

by Robert Liddell.
Peter Owen, 228 pp., £14.95, February 1992, 0 7206 0853 8
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Farewell Sidonia 
by Erich Hackl.
Cape, 135 pp., £5.99, February 1992, 0 224 02901 0
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... were it not for the occasional respite with the aunts, who might have strayed from the pages of Barbara Pym; their gentle, feline malice is a balm to the spirit. It is not surprising that Liddell should be the author of a critical study of Miss Pym, and of a memoir of Elizabeth Taylor and Ivy Compton Burnett. When ...

Tea or Eucharist?

Anthony Howard, 3 December 1992

The Faber Book of Church and Clergy 
edited by A.N. Wilson.
Faber, 304 pp., £17.50, November 1992, 0 571 16204 5
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High and Mitred: A Study of Prime Ministers as Bishop-Makers 1837-1977 
by Bernard Palmer.
SPCK, 350 pp., £20, October 1992, 0 281 04594 1
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... Bishop of Newark, USA, thereby making satire almost impossible. Only John Betjeman and Barbara Pym stood gallantly with their fingers in the dyke upholding a vision of the dear old ecclesia anglicana as it once was. A.N. Wilson’s anthology, however, rides nobly to their rescue. It is a wonderfully evocative work drenched in a sense of a ...


John Bayley, 4 June 1987

The Faber Book of Diaries 
edited by Simon Brett.
Faber, 498 pp., £12.95, March 1987, 0 571 13806 3
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A Lasting Relationship: Parents and Children over Three Centuries 
by Linda Pollock.
Fourth Estate, 319 pp., £14.95, April 1987, 0 947795 25 1
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... page as I write.’ That is Denton Welch, who liked to write ‘as I write’. His great admirer, Barbara Pym, liked to record buying matching underclothes, chosen for the pleasure of imagining someone else seeing them. This is an important aspect of love in a diary – you imagine the loved one reading it, and giggle all the more at the thought. ...
Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky 
by Patrick Hamilton.
Hogarth, 528 pp., £4.95, June 1987, 0 7012 0751 5
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Trust Me 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 249 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 394 55833 2
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Her Story: A Novel 
by Dan Jacobson.
Deutsch, 142 pp., £8.95, August 1987, 0 233 98116 0
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... novel The Slaves of Solitude, with its heroine the lonely spinster Miss Roach. This was the new Barbara Pym country, and he did not quite make it his own. The same applies to an unfinished trilogy, set in Brighton, about a psychopath and potential murderer, Ralph Gorse. Haunting and memorable as its early part is, with the sense of something really ...

Living with a little halibut

John Bayley, 8 October 1992

by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 224 pp., £14.99, August 1992, 0 224 03315 8
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... more robust. Whatever ‘went wrong’ in the lives and fates of Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bowen, Barbara Pym, they used it as a source of comedy, as the inspiration for their formidable sense of fun. They are all quite different otherwise, and so is Anita Brookner: and yet the resemblances are unmistakable. Something about you is a bit of a ...


Susannah Clapp: On Angela Carter, 12 March 1992

... of course, that her novels and stories went unacknowledged in her lifetime. Angela Carter was no Barbara Pym. She was not neglected or rejected (except by the National Theatre, who turned down her version of Lulu a few years ago). She was given solus reviews and publishers’ parties; she went on telly; she was courted by universities and nobbled by ...


John Lanchester, 9 May 1991

The Redundancy of Courage 
by Timothy Mo.
Chatto, 408 pp., £13.99, April 1990, 0 7011 3748 7
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... so much so, in fact, that one might have mistaken the author for a sort of half-Cantonese would-be Barbara Pym, a candidate member of the school of downbeat English ironists. Wallace Nolasco, the novel’s hero, is a Macao-born ‘Portuguese’ Chinese who marries into the household of the Poons, a wealthy Hongkong Cantonese family who need to marry off ...

One for the road

Ian Hamilton, 21 March 1991

by Kingsley Amis.
Hutchinson, 346 pp., £16.99, March 1991, 0 09 174533 0
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... by the mob. Philip Larkin used to exhibit the same tendency when asked to name his lineup: Barbara Pym, Stevie Smith, Betjeman. Larkin, of course, is the one contemporary to whom Amis is prepared to yield high marks (Robert Conquest, perhaps the most ‘all right’ of Kingsley’s literary cronies, is shunted off into ‘light verse’). Larkin ...


John Bayley, 17 March 1988

End of a Journey: An Autobiographical Journal 1979-1981 
by Philip Toynbee.
Bloomsbury, 422 pp., £25, February 1988, 0 7475 0132 7
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... by mail-order. Although, being a man, his style and approach are far more emphatic than those of Barbara Pym, there is here something of her own journal’s assumption of faith through triviality. Toynbee was well aware that his own ploy of self-ridicule was an extension of vanity, but it was a very natural extension. He had always seen himself as a ...

Cosmic Interference

Dinah Birch: Janet Davey’s Fiction, 8 October 2015

Another Mother’s Son 
by Janet Davey.
Chatto, 296 pp., £12.99, August 2015, 978 1 78474 022 1
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... her chosen genre. Davey’s work is also allied to the tradition of novelists like Jean Rhys, Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, who quietly insist on the persistence of alienation, domestic or otherwise, in women’s lives. Breakdowns in communication between the sexes punctuate her dialogue. ‘She could see him thinking she was an odd girl and that ...

Becoming a girl

John Bayley, 25 March 1993

Philip Larkin: Writer 
by James Booth.
Harvester, 192 pp., £9.95, March 1992, 0 7450 0769 4
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... put into my head by Anthony Thwaite’s selection of the poet’s letters. Booth, together with Barbara Everett, is among the few critics who have produced real illumination about the way the poems work: ways of working which notoriously have become more and more indefinable the more public and popular a figure the poet has become – and indeed the more he ...

Female Heads

John Bayley, 27 October 1988

Woman to Woman: Female Friendship in Victorian Fiction 
by Tess Cosslett.
Harvester, 211 pp., £29.95, July 1988, 0 7108 1015 6
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Sentiment and Sociability: The Language of Feeling in the Eighteenth Century 
by John Mullan.
Oxford, 261 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 19 812865 7
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The Early Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney. Vol. I: 1768-1773 
edited by Lars Troide.
Oxford, 353 pp., £45, June 1988, 9780198125815
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... Erle to get her heroine the desired husband. It seems that in her study of the novel in verse Barbara Gelpi has even seen the villainous and sexually predatory Lady Waldemar, who arranges Marian’s abduction and rape, as Aurora’s Jungian ‘shadow’. Certainly Aurora first accepts and then rejects the idea of independent woman plus child represented ...


Robert Irwin: Pinball and Despair, 7 July 1994

... like something quieter and what I fantasise about is something which does not yet exist – the ‘Barbara Pym Crampton Hodnett’ pinball game. In the story painted by this machine’s graphics (watercolour, of course), the layout will be formal and the ball will roll gently up garden paths and then, having reached the top of its arc and flirted gently ...

Mrs G

John Bayley, 11 March 1993

Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 690 pp., £20, February 1993, 0 571 15182 5
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... What is lacking is the note of intimacy, the tone so natural to Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Barbara Pym or Elizabeth Bowen that their readers (perhaps particularly the male ones) only notice it in terms of their own feeling of gratified response to what seems a subtlety of fellow-feeling, a gratifyingly tacit appeal to their own insight and ...

Think Tiny

Mark Ford: Nancification, 17 July 2008

The Nancy Book 
by Joe Brainard.
Siglio, 144 pp., $39.50, April 2008, 978 0 9799562 0 1
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... off’, in Padgett’s phrase, to his willingness to spend his days immersed in the fiction of Barbara Pym rather than taking the Manhattan art world by storm. He experienced a ‘speed-crisis’ around 1976, one he’d anticipated some years earlier: ‘A mad fiend, yes,’ he wrote of the pills that kept him humming, ‘but I’m willing to pay. The ...

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