In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick


Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Short Cuts: Harry Goes Rogue

Jonathan Parry

A Secret RichnessPenelope Fitzgerald

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website ( — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.

  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
A Few Green Leaves 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 250 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 0 333 29168 9
Show More
Show More

In this, the last novel we shall have from Barbara Pym, it is Miss Grundy, a downtrodden elderly church-worker, who says that ‘a few green leaves can make such a difference.’ The phrase echoes a poem which the author loved, but found disturbing, George Herbert’s ‘Hope’.

I gave to Hope a watch of mine: but he
                  An anchor gave to me.
Then an old prayer-book I did present:
                   And he an optick sent.
With that I gave a viall full of tears:
                  But he a few green eares:
Ah Loyterer! I’le no more, no more I’le bring:
                 I did expect a ring.

The book, in her accustomed manner, is both elegiac and hopeful. It gives a sense of pity for lost opportunities, but at the same time a courageous opening to the future.

High comedy needs a settled world, ready to resent disturbance, and in her nine novels Barbara pym stuck serenely to the one she knew best: quiet suburbs, obscure office departments, villages where the neighbours could be observed through the curtains, and, above all, Anglican parishes. (Even as a child at school she had written stories about curates.) This meant that the necessary confrontations must take place at cold Sunday suppers, little gatherings, visits, funerals, and so on, which Barbara Pym, supremely observant in her own territory, was able to convert into a battleground. Here, even without intending it, a given character is either advancing or retreating: you have, for instance, an unfair advantage if your mother is dead, ‘just a silver-framed photograph’, over someone whose mother lives in Putney. And in the course of the struggle strange fragments of conversation float to the surface, lyrical moments dear to Barbara Pym.

‘An anthropophagist.’ declared Miss Doggett in an authoritative tone. ‘He does some kind of scientific work, I believe.’

‘I thought it meant a cannibal – someone who ate human flesh,’ said Jane in wonder.

‘Well, science has made such strides,’ said Miss Doggett doubtfully.


‘Well, he is a Roman Catholic priest, and it is not usual for them to marry, is it?’

‘No, of course they are forbidden to,’ Miss Foresight agreed.

‘Still, Miss Lydgate is much taller than he is,’ she added.

In such exchanges the victory is doubtful: indeed, Miss Doggett and Miss Foresight are, in their way, invincible.

As might be expected, however, of such a brilliant comic writer, the issues are not comic at all. Three kinds of conflict recur throughout Barbara Pym’s novels: growing old (on which she concentrated in the deeply touching Quartet in Autumn); hanging on to some kind of individuality, however crushed, however dim; and adjusting the vexatious distance between men and women. These, indeed, are novels without heroes. The best that can be put forward is the Vicar in Jane and Prudence, ‘beamy and beaky, kindly looks and spectacles’, and, as his wife accepts, more than somewhat childish. If men are less than angels, Barbara Pym’s men are rather less than men, not wanting much more than constant attention and comfort. Their theses must be typed, surplices washed, endless dinners cooked, remarks listened to ‘with an expression of strained interest’, and the forces of nature and society combine to ensure, even in the 1980s, that they get these things. Women see through them clearly enough, but are drawn towards them by their own need and by a compassion which is taken entirely for granted. Men are allowed, indeed conditioned, to deceive themselves to the end, and are loved as self-deceivers.

Women have their resource – the romantic imagination. This faculty, which Jane Austen (and James Joyce, for that matter) considered so destructive, is the secret ‘richness’ of Barbara Pym’s heroines. ‘Richness’ is a favourite word. It means plenty of human behaviour to observe, leading to a wildly sympathetic flight of fancy into the past and future. Of course, one must come down to earth, the tea must be made, reason takes over: but the happiness remains. Richness can defeat even loneliness. In The sweet dove died pampered Leonora, on a visit to Keats House, looks in astonishment at a faded middle-aged woman with a bag full of library books, ‘on top of which lay the brightly-coloured packet of a frozen dinner for one ... And now she caught a glimpse of her [the woman’s] face, plain but radiant, as she looked up from one of the glass cases that held the touching relics. There were tears on her cheeks.’

Barbara Pym nevertheless guards against sentimentality. She is the writer who points out ‘the desire to do good without much personal inconvenience that lurks in most of us’, the regrettable things said between friends and ‘the satisfaction which is to be got from saying precisely things of that kind’, the irritation we feel ‘when we have made up our minds to dislike people for no apparent reason and they perform a kind action’. But towards her characters she shows a creator’s charity. She understands them so well that the least she can do is to forgive them.

For A Few Green Leaves she has moved back from the London of her last two novels to the country. Here, too, she has always taken a straight look. Why is it always assumed that English women must ‘love’ the country, and be partial to dead birds and rabbits, and to cruel village gossip? Why are those who dig the garden and keep goats called ‘splendid’? But, at the same time, this is Oxford-shire, the ‘softly undulating landscape, mysterious woods and ancient stone buildings’ where Barbara Pym herself spent her last years.

The heroine, Emma Howick, who does not mean to settle there permanently, undertakes some quiet research into her fellow creatures (rather like Dulcie in No Fond Return of Love). The original inhabitants of the village have withdrawn to a council estate on the outskirts, leaving the stone cottages to elderly ladies and professional people. Here she begins her field notes. Changes in village life are a gift to the ironist, but Barbara Pym has placed such changes – seen partly through Emma’s eyes and partly through her own – in relation to an unexpected point, the human need for healing. The almost empty church confronts the well-attended surgery (Tuesdays and Thursdays). ‘There was nothing in churchgoing to equal that triumphant moment when you came out of the surgery clutching the ritual scrap of paper.’ The lazy old senior partner is ‘beloved’, the junior partner’s wife schemes to move into the Rectory, far too large and chilly for the widowed Rev. Thomas Dagnall. Even a discarded tweed coat of the young doctor’s is handed separately to the Bring and Buy, ‘as if a touch could heal’. But when, in the closing pages, he is obliged to tell a woman patient that her days are numbered – for it’s no good trying to hide the truth from an intelligent person – ‘she had come back at him by asking if he believed in life after death. For a moment he had been stunned into silence, indignant at such a question.’ In this indignation we get a glimpse, no more than that, of a pattern which Barbara Pym chose to express only in terms of comedy.

The story proceeds from Low Sunday to New Year through delightful set-pices – a Hunger Lunch, a Flower Festival, blackberry-picking (but the hedges turn out to have been ‘done’ already). Tom and Emma must draw together, that’s clear enough. Both of them feel the unwanted freedom of loneliness. Daphne, Tom’s tough-looking elder sister, is yet another romantic:

  ‘One goes on living in the hope of seeing another spring,’ Daphne said with a rush of emotion. ‘And isn’t that a patch of violets?’ She pointed to a twist of purple on the ground, no rare spring flower or even the humblest violet, but the discarded wrapping of a chocolate bar, as Tom was quick to point out.

  ‘Oh, but there’ll soon be bluebells in these woods – another reason for surviving the winter,’ she went on ... Young Dr Shrubsole moved away from her, hoping she had not noticed his withdrawal.

Who can say which of them, in the satirist’s sense, is right? In the same way, the villagers intimidate the gentry, and the old are intimidated by the young, who preserve them and educate them in healthy living and make them carry saccharine ‘in a little decorated container given by one of the grandchildren’ – but in both cases Barbara Pym gently divides her sympathy. We have to keep alert, because she will never say exactly what we expect. The ‘few green leaves’ of the title come from a remark of Miss Grundy’s, made to Tom, who reflects how often these elderly women give him, quite unconsciously, ideas for a sermon: ‘He made up his mind not to use them.’

Through all Barbara Pym’s work there is a consistency of texture, as well as of background. She has described the texture herself as ‘pain, amusement, surprise, resignation’. This makes it possible for characters to stray out of their own novel into another: in A Few Green Leaves, for example, we hear about the funeral of Miss Clovis, from Less Than Angels. The valedictory note cannot be missed. But, once again, the ending is an encounter with hope, as Emma determines to stay in the village, ‘and even to embark on a love affair which need not necessarily be an unhappy one’.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.