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Being splendid

Stephen Wall

3 March 1988
Civil to Strangers 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 388 pp., £11.95, October 1987, 0 333 39128 4
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The Pleasure of Miss Pym 
by Charles Burkhart.
Texas, 120 pp., $17.95, July 1987, 0 292 76496 0
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The World of Barbara Pym 
by Janice Rossen.
Macmillan, 193 pp., £27.50, November 1987, 0 333 42372 0
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The Life and Work of Barbara Pym 
edited by Dale Salwak.
Macmillan, 210 pp., £27.50, April 1987, 0 333 40831 4
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... After a lonely visit to Poland in 1938, Barbara Pym complained in a letter that ‘I honestly don’t believe I can be happy unless I am writing. It seems to be the only thing I really want to do.’ In a 1978 broadcast printed in the latest collection of her previously unpublished work, she looks back over more than forty years spent trying to write novels – a career with, as she laconically puts it, ‘many ups and downs ...
6 September 1984
A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Letters and Diaries 
by Barbara Pym, edited by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym.
Macmillan, 320 pp., £12.95, July 1984, 0 333 34995 4
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... The Barbara Pym story is possibly better-known than any of her novels, widely though these are now read. During the decade after 1950 she brought out half a dozen books, which were well received and found a steady if small reading public. But in 1963 her publisher, Cape, turned down her new novel, An Unsuitable Attachment, and she stayed unpublished until 1977 ...
19 October 1995
À la PymThe Barbara Pym Cookery Book 
by Hilary Pym and Honor Wyatt.
Prospect, 102 pp., £9.95, September 1995, 0 907325 61 0
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... On 23 April 1977 Philip Larkin came to lunch at Barbara Pym’s cottage in Finstock, near Oxford. She and her sister had only been living there a short while, after Pym’s retirement from her post in Fetter Lane as assistant editor of Africa; and it was Larkin’s first and, as it turned out, his only visit ...

Damp-Lipped Hilary

Jenny Diski: Larkin’s juvenilia

23 May 2002
Trouble at Willow Gables and Other Fictions 
by Philip Larkin, edited by James Booth.
Faber, 498 pp., £20, May 2002, 0 571 20347 7
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... an interminable fussy-solicitous correspondence with his mother, and relished the works of Barbara Pym and “Miss Read”’. As if reading Barbara Pym were not evidence enough, Booth suggests that Larkin also retreated into the feminine in face of the war (didn’t want to go into the Army) and his father’s Fascism ...

Ladies

John Bayley

4 September 1986
An Academic Question 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 182 pp., £9.95, July 1986, 0 333 41843 3
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A Misalliance 
by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 191 pp., £9.95, August 1986, 0 224 02403 5
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... shown that they were being ill-treated or neglected so much the better.’ Yes, that’s authentic Pym, with the true depth of exuberance in it: what Philip Larkin accurately called her ‘innocent irony’ – innocent because not just seemingly innocent. In another writer it might be malicious or mechanical or just for show. In Evelyn Waugh or Muriel Spark ...

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