“I do not approve of this hushed and reverent attitude towards our great Library. After all, it is a place for human beings, isn’t it?’ “ Yes, I suppose it is,’ said Belinda doubtfully, for she was remembering some of the strange people who used to work there in her undergraduate days, many of whom could hardly have been called human beings if one were to judge by their looks”.
--- Some Tame Gazelle
This bibliography covers materials about Barbara Pym published in English between 1991 and 2013. For earlier publications refer to the printed guide Barbara Pym: A Reference Guide by Dale Salwak (G.K. Hall, 1991). This guide is available for purchase and can be found in many libraries.
Abstracts for each entry in the bibliography have been provided whenever possible. Occasionally no detailed information was available for an item, for example in the case of some dissertations published before 2000. As often as possible each entry has a finding aide, either a URL for locating the material online, or the name of the electronic database in which the item was found. For the full-text of the book, journal article, or dissertation, please consult your local library.
I would like to thank my librarian colleagues for their help in editing the final text of the bibliography especially Larry McDonald whose encyclopedic knowledge of punctuation and the Oxford English Dictionary proved invaluable. I would also like to thank Tom Sopko, North American Organizer of the Barbara Pym Society, for his assistance in providing photos of Barbara Pym. And of course, many thanks to Professor Dale Salwak at Citrus College, California for his enthusiastic encouragement in carrying forward this project.
Barbara Pym: A Writer’s Life
Barbara Mary Crampton Pym was born on June 2 1913 in Oswestry, Shropshire, England the elder of two daughters of a local soliciter, Frederic Pym and his wife, Irena. Her sister Hilary was three years her junior. Barbara took her secondary education at Huyton College near Liverpool and then went on to study English literature at the University of Oxford (St. Hilda’s College) from which she graduated in 1934. She described her years at Oxford as “intoxicating” and developed a deep and lasting interest in the English literary tradition, especially in what she referred to as "our greater English poets." The following year, at the age of twenty-two, Pym completed her first novel Some Tame Gazelle although she laid it aside and the novel was not published until after World War 11. In the inter-War period Barbara traveled abroad, worked briefly in Katowice, Poland, and lived in Oswestry where she read widely and continued in honing her writing skills. During World War 11 Barbara was assigned to the Censorship Office in Bristol, subsequently joining the Women’s Royal Navy Service (WRNS) where she attained the rank of Third Officer. In 1944 she was posted to Naples, Italy and remained there for the duration of the War, returning to England in 1945 to nurse her mother who was terminally ill. She joined the staff of the African International Institute in London the following year. Among a variety of duties Barbara was assistant editor of the Institute’s journal Africa, a scholarly publication that was well-known internationally. Barbara was intensely curious about the anthropologists who frequented the Institute, and their anthropological language. It was from these rich sources that she was inspired to develop an academic, detached writing style, as well as to create new, comedic, fictional characters based on her anthropologist colleagues.
The 1950’s was a period during which Barbara wrote steadily, publishing six novels during that decade. Barbara’s popularity as a writer became established and she developed a loyal readership in that period. She created a unique style that critically examined the human condition with a sharp and bemused eye that focused on several themes: the unmarried middle-class women living marginally on the edge of society, ineffectual and rather hapless men with particular reference to the clergy, the state of marriage, and the Anglican Church. Her characters are ordinary people leading quiet, unremarkable lives. In 1963 Barbara’s publisher rejected her latest manuscript for the novel An Unsuitable Attachment considering her style out of date. Barbara then entered a long period in the literary wilderness, remaining unpublished for the next sixteen years. Despite her attempts to alter her writing in a way that editors found acceptable, she had no success in being published. In 1977 the poet Philip Larkin, a longtime friend, and Lord David Cecil named Barbara the most underrated writer of the century in an article for the Times Literary Supplement. Larkin wrote to one of the publishers who refused to take on An Unsuitable Attachment “It is a great shame if ordinary sane novels about ordinary sane people doing ordinary sane things can’t find a publisher these days.” “This is the tradition of Jane Austen and Trollope, and I refuse to believe that no one wants its successors today.” It is likely true that no one did, just then, but that was bound to change. Suddenly and dramatically Barbara’s career was revitalized. She successfully published her next novel Quartet in Autumn in 1977 which was subsequently short-listed for the Booker Prize. Thereafter Pym’s literary renaissance meant that several of her earlier novels were promptly reissued. Barbara Pym retired from the International African Institute in 1974 due to poor health, moving from London to a cottage in Finstock, Oxfordshire, which she shared with her sister Hilary Pym Walton. She died in 1980 from ovarian cancer and is buried in the Finstock cemetery. After her death, Barbara’s diaries, and other autobiographical writings were published in A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters edited by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym. (1984).
Books by Barbara Pym