A Cup of Pyms

Kris Rothstein

About two years ago at a Christmas party, a friend recommended the British author Barbara Pym, who was, she said, her favourite writer. “What do you like about her books?” I asked. “Nothing happens,” was the reply. I read Pym’s two most acclaimed works (Excellent Women and Quartet in Autumn) and liked them but it wasn’t until I read her first novel, Some Tame Gazelle, published in 195 (Jonathan Cape), that I understood the intense charm of this lack of action. The novel concerns unmarried sisters Belinda and Harriet Bede, who live in the English countryside. Pym’s loving but sly take on the world is reminiscent of Jane Austen, but I find Pym funnier and somehow more shrewd and gentle in her satire. Most of Pym’s novels concern middle-aged spinsters, often with ties to the church. Belinda harbours an unrequited love for the archdeacon next door while her sister fixates on every new curate who comes to town. However, both are supremely happy with their lives. Other novels progress persistently toward happy marriages, but when the proposals come to the Bede sisters, both are horrified. They are doing just fine, thank you.

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