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The Pleasures of Poverty

Barbara Everett, 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 But in 1963 her publisher, Cape, turned down her new novel, An Unsuitable Attachment, and she stayed unpublished until 1977 ...

Barbara Pym’s Hymn

Karl Miller, 6 March 1980

... 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 ...

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 In a 1978 broadcast printed in the latest collection of her previously unpublished work, she looks back over more than forty years spent trying to write novels – a career with, as she laconically puts it, ‘many ups and downs ...

A Secret Richness

Penelope Fitzgerald, 20 November 1980

A Few Green Leaves 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 250 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 0 333 29168 9
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... 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 ...

Keeping up with Jane Austen

Marilyn Butler, 6 May 1982

An Unsuitable Attachment 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 256 pp., £6.95, February 1982, 0 333 32654 7
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... Barbara Pym’s posthumous novel, An Unsuitable Attachment, begins with an echo of Pride and Prejudice. Rupert Stonebird, an eligible bachelor, has just moved into a middle-class neighbourhood. Two of its women walk past his house to size him up. Perhaps he will make a suitable husband for the vicar’s wife’s sister, Penny, or perhaps for the faded librarian Ianthe Broome ...

Costa del Pym

Nicholas Spice, 4 July 1985

Crampton Hodnet 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 0 333 39129 2
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Foreign Land 
by Jonathan Raban.
Harvill, 352 pp., £9.50, June 1985, 0 00 222918 8
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Black Marina 
by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 157 pp., £8.95, June 1985, 9780571134670
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... In a letter to Robert Liddell dated 12 January 1940, Barbara Pym speaks well of her progress on a new novel, Crampton Hodnet, which she finished later that year, but which has only now surfaced for publication: ‘It is about North Oxford and has some bits as good as anything I ever did. Mr Latimer’s proposal to Miss Morrow, old Mrs Killigrew, Dr Fremantle, Master of Randolph College, Mr Cleveland’s elopement and its unfortunate end ...

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 ...

Maschler Pudding

John Bayley, 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 ...

Anglicana

Peter Campbell, 31 August 1989

A Particular Place 
by Mary Hocking.
Chatto, 216 pp., £12.95, June 1989, 0 7011 3454 2
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The House of Fear, Notes from Down Below 
by Leonora Carrington.
Virago, 216 pp., £10.99, July 1989, 1 85381 048 7
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Painted Lives 
by Max Egremont.
Hamish Hamilton, 205 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 241 12706 8
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The Ultimate Good Luck 
by Richard Ford.
Collins Harvill, 201 pp., £11.95, July 1989, 0 00 271853 7
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... of the soul’s struggle. Agnostic readers probably feel easiest with them when they are funny: Barbara Pym pleases by her disengagement, by avoiding a charismatic or the enthusiastic tone. Mary Hocking is not at her best in this mode. She is better on the larger themes of dying and the remaking of relationships, but her moral points are close to the ...

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 ...

Mizzled

Roy Harris, 21 February 1985

Longman Dictionary of the English Language 
by Randolph Quirk.
Longman, 1875 pp., £14.95, October 1984, 0 582 55511 6
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The Private Lives of English Words 
by Louis Heller, Alexander Humez and Malcah Dror.
Routledge, 333 pp., £12.95, May 1984, 0 7102 0006 4
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The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words 
by Bill Bryson.
Viking, 173 pp., £7.95, April 1984, 0 7139 1653 2
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The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots 
by Joseph Shipley.
Johns Hopkins, 637 pp., $39.95, May 1984, 0 8018 3004 4
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A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English 
by Eric Partidge and Paul Beale.
Routledge, 1400 pp., £45, May 1984, 0 7100 9820 0
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... trollies. The diary entry in question was not published until 1984, by which time the diarist, Barbara Pym, had become a cult figure in English literary circles. By that time, too, the words blue celanese trollies needed translation. Neither celanese nor that particular meaning of trolley are to be found in the recent Longman Dictionary (the phrase ...

One Thing

John Bayley, 22 November 1990

Jean Rhys 
by Carole Angier.
Deutsch, 780 pp., £15.99, November 1990, 0 233 98597 2
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A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym 
by Hazel Holt.
Macmillan, 308 pp., £14.99, November 1990, 0 333 40614 1
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... as ever. Still, when she died there in 1979 she had become a grand old lady of the English novel. Barbara Pym died a year later at her cottage in Oxfordshire, having thoroughly enjoyed her retirement from a London office, and having also been rediscovered and made famous after years of being rejected by the swinging publishers of the Sixties – the same ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: What Writers Wear, 27 July 2017

... sets the mind going along interesting lines about others who might be given the same treatment: Barbara Pym, beneath whose twinset beat a passionate heart; Anita Brookner with her neatly tailored outfits and the fine-spun auburn up-do exuding poise and sadness; and all the others who in various ways inhabit their ...

Superchild

John Bayley, 6 September 1984

The Diary of Virginia Woolf. Vol. V: 1936-1941 
edited by Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie.
Chatto, 402 pp., £17.50, June 1984, 0 7012 0566 0
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Deceived with Kindness: A Bloomsbury Childhood 
by Angelica Garnett.
Chatto, 181 pp., £9.95, August 1984, 0 7011 2821 6
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... and Hardy – all the way down to Anthony Powell in his Memoirs and the just published diaries of Barbara Pym. Indeed this contribution to the state of the art by a humbler sister in the fiction business – and appearing posthumously in the same way – might well have aroused Virginia Woolf to envy and admiration. Even when she was an undergraduate ...

Snouty

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. ...

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