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Jane and Prudence

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If Jane Cleveland and Prudence Bates seem an unlikely pair to be walking together at an Oxford reunion, neither of them are aware of it. They couldn't be more different: Jane is a rather incompetent vicar's wife, who always looks as if she is about to feed the chickens, while Prudence, a pristine hothouse flower, has the most unsuitable affairs. With the move to a rural parish, Jane is determined to find her friend the perfect man. She learns that matchmaking has as many pitfalls as housewifery...

222 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1953

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About the author

Barbara Pym

32 books780 followers
After studying English at St Hilda's College, Oxford, Barbara Pym served in the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II. From 1950 to 1961, she published six novels, but her 7th was declined by the publisher due to a change in the reading public's tastes.

The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the 1975 Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most underrated writer of the century. Pym and Larkin had kept up a private correspondence over a period of many years. Her comeback novel, Quartet in Autumn, was nominated for the Booker Prize. Another novel, The Sweet Dove Died, previously rejected by many publishers, was subsequently published to critical acclaim, and several of her previously unpublished novels were published after her death.

Pym worked at the International African Institute in London for some years, and played a large part in the editing of its scholarly journal, Africa, hence the frequency with which anthropologists crop up in her novels. She never married, despite several close relationships with men, notably Henry Harvey, a fellow Oxford student, and the future politician, Julian Amery. After her retirement, she moved into Barn Cottage at Finstock in Oxfordshire with her younger sister, Hilary, who continued to live there until her death in February 2005. A blue plaque was placed on the cottage in 2006. The sisters played an active role in the social life of the village.

Several strong themes link the works in the Pym "canon", which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, with excessive significance being attached to social activities connected with the Anglican church (in particular its Anglo-Catholic incarnation). However, the dialogue is often deeply ironic, and a tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died.

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