Saturday, February 9, 2013

So Nice to Know Miss Pym

For anyone interested in post WWII England, fashion, and lifestyle, I highly recommend the novels of Barbara Pym.  Barbara  Pym (1913-1980) is know for creating her own world of characters that describe common human angst against the backdrop of London and village life.  For someone new to "the world of Pym", Excellent Women is an excellent place to start.  Mildred is a "gentlewoman" who's comfortable, single lifestyle is disrupted by the appearance of a new, troubled married couple in her building. The book is rich with domestic details, Mildred's careful housekeeping routines compared with her neighbor Helena's.  Food always plays an important role in her novels as well, such as simple "spinster" meals of "lettuce tomato salad with mayonnaise".  Tea figures an important role as well especially during emotional moments.  Barbara Pym books also describe fashions and clothes worn, especially contrasts between more stylish characters and frumpy ones.  Barbara was always a sewer and knitter during her life and this is reflected in the details of her stories as well.

Barbara Pym was also an avid diarist throughout her life and A Very Private Eye her autobiography documents her life from her youth to her death in 1980. In it are details of her years at Oxford, her service in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS) as well as love affairs and adult life. There are great photographs of her in it.   Her sister Hilary Pym and close friend Hazel Holt edited a companion version in A Lot to Ask.  Also, the two women compiled The Barbara Pym Cookbook, which details many of the dishes served in her novels.

Humor, irony, coziness create a world that a reader will come back to time and time again.  Her books are comforting, funny, sometimes sad, but always a satisfying  read.  I have included a picture of my Barbara Pym collection.  Her books have been in and out of print, but if I run across a copy of one I will buy it even I already own a copy just in case one kind of starts to fall apart. 

In a nutshell, these books are so great, it is worth buying a copy of a book I already own!  I would love to hear from any Pym fans!