Barbara Pym Fan Club discussion

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Pym as tranquilizer

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message 1: by Idiosyncratic (new)

Idiosyncratic | 15 comments This may seem like a stunningly obvious observation, but I have noticed that I re-read Barbara Pym when I am feeling especially depressed or overcome with the difficulties of life. I find her incredibly soothing - a bit like, as noted above, a tranquilizer. I rarely read fiction (I find so little I like and besides, I'm an information addict, so non-fiction is my thing), but I suspect many people use fiction generally in the same way - as an escape. But she is definitely my safety valve; I have read a few of her books perhaps a dozen times or more. I just wondered if others feel the same way...


message 2: by Carla Remy (new)

Carla Remy I could not agree more. You said it. Maybe her prose brings on pleasant brainwaves - I know that sounds silly, but it kind of feels like that. And they're very re-readable, for multiple reasons.


message 3: by Rln (new)

Rln | 2 comments Funny. I am doing it now. Reading no fond return of love. I don't understand it entirely either, but there is something about reading the small, regular things in life that are just disappointing or irritating that reassures me that I am just living life. Don't know if this is good or bad but it's a comfort.


message 4: by Idiosyncratic (last edited Jul 19, 2011 09:08PM) (new)

Idiosyncratic | 15 comments Remy - It's funny, you know. I have the same sense that reading her brings on "pleasant brainwaves" - and yet, at the same time, it doesn't. There's often a strange sense of defeat in her writing - as Rln points out, her writing also contains "things in life that are just disappointing or irritating". As well, there's sometimes a desperation in her writing - I, too, am re-reading No Fond Return of Love - and I find it sad and rather pathetic that Dulcie eagerly imagines, at the beginning of the novel, that she and Viola will be "friends". Or that Viola - who hardly knows Dulcie and even seems to disdain her - suddenly phones up and asks if she can move in with Dulcie. Or when eccentric, unattractive men (like that bishop in Some Tame Gazelle) suddenly propose to women they've met on a few occasions. By our modern standards, it's all rather weird and yet, for some reason, it all appeals to me. No doubt someone could write a big academic paper on this!


message 5: by Carla Remy (new)

Carla Remy Yes, it's interesting how her books are both pleasant and sad. She gets compared to J Austen, but I've never quite felt that. Austen always has a happy ending. In my memory the only Pym with a happy ending is "An Unsuitable Attachment." And even that isn't as romantic as Austen.


message 6: by Cindy (new)

Cindy | 19 comments Without a doubt!! Her books provide a wonderful, quiet place to escape from our very different world. Whenever I need a break and a slower pace...Pym is where I go. And sometimes not even that, sometimes I just read her because she was a fantastic writer and much more complicated than she seemed.


message 8: by Cindy (new)

Cindy | 19 comments Beth wrote: "Great article here:

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-t......"

Oh thanks so much for posting!! It's marvelous!


message 9: by Denise (new)

Denise E. (deniz_erol) That is an awesome article! There is actually a book about Pym by her good friend Hazel Holt (I think they worked together in some office, for their anthropology magazine). It's called A Lot to Ask which for some reason feels like a slightly Pym title. Anyway apparently Pym was this totally passionate person who suffered multiple upsets and romantic failures and took all of it totally to heart... Like anything but tranquil. So it's very interesting to think how amused and ironic she comes off in her books especially about love.


message 10: by Beth (new)

Beth | 7 comments Deniz wrote: "That is an awesome article! There is actually a book about Pym by her good friend Hazel Holt (I think they worked together in some office, for their anthropology magazine). It's called A Lot to Ask..."

Deniz wrote: "That is an awesome article! There is actually a book about Pym by her good friend Hazel Holt (I think they worked together in some office, for their anthropology magazine). It's called A Lot to Ask..."

Cindy wrote: "Beth wrote: "Great article here:

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-t......"


Thanks Deniz for the info about Hazel Holt and the book title. This group has been quiet for some time so I'm glad you contributed. Beth


message 11: by Denise (new)

Denise E. (deniz_erol) Oh, yeah, let's get it going! I think it's crazy more people don't know about her.


message 12: by Jelena (new)

Jelena | 14 comments I agree, but then she's not everyone's cup of tea.

I was thinking it would be fun to reread the novels in order, maybe on a schedule we agree on, and comment on them as we finish them. Anyone else interested?


message 13: by Mary (last edited Aug 26, 2015 03:46AM) (new)

Mary Twitchell | 3 comments "Cup of tea" hits the nail on the head for me: when I was a stressed-out forty something I would crawl into a Barbara Pym book every night, knowing that there would be a cup of tea waiting for me somewhere in the first twenty pages and lives that were less pressured -- if not any happier -- to lose myself in.


message 14: by Beth (new)

Beth | 7 comments Mary wrote: ""Cup of tea" hits the nail on the head for me: when I was a stressed-out forty something I would crawl into a Barbara Pym book every night, knowing that there would be a cup of tea waiting for me s..."

Mary, me too….Pym is responsible for helping me through one of the toughest periods of my life. I love how her main characters always "crept" up the steps….always on the fringe of participating in life, always the keenest of spectators trying to make sense of it all. And a hard cooked egg!


message 15: by Idiosyncratic (new)

Idiosyncratic | 15 comments Beth, you have reminded me that I definitely should be reading her now, as I am going through a particularly rough patch. (You think I'd remember to do this, given that I started this thread 4 years ago...!). She is a strange combination of the soothing and the disturbing; I always think particularly of this quote from An Unsuitable Attachment "Oh, this coming back to an empty house," Rupert thought, when he had seen her safely up to her door. People - though perhaps it was only women - seemed to make so much of it. As if life itself were not as empty as the house one was coming back to." Now THERE'S a grim thought for you. But there is such a poignancy to her writing, and such humour. Fortunately for us, she was able to turn the disappointments in life into such memorable writing (one thinks specifically of her decades-long unrequited love for Henry Harvey, which apparently resulted in the character of Archdeacon Henry Hoccleve in Some Tame Gazelle). I can live with her bleak moments because of the often sardonic, but gentle nature of her humour.


message 16: by Beth (new)

Beth | 7 comments Idiosyncratic wrote: "Beth, you have reminded me that I definitely should be reading her now, as I am going through a particularly rough patch. (You think I'd remember to do this, given that I started this thread 4 year..."

Oh, idiosyncratic--please pick up a Barbara Pym book. Yes, her descriptions of being unattached and living a solo life are so piercing. But she also has the gift of mocking couples so we can rejoice in an "empty" house. As readers, especially of Pym, we are fortunate we can lose our troubles for a little while and come up for air refreshed; I find my perspective is altered for the better because her characters grapple with such universal human issues. Please keep in touch. I am so enjoying all the comments and input from this Goodreads group. Thanks for starting this thread.


message 17: by Beth (new)

Beth | 7 comments Well, all this activity motivated me to find out when the 2016 Barbara Pym North America conference is scheduled. March 11 - 13 in Cambridge, Mass. I haven't attended in several years but am considering it. I live in the Boston area. They are calling for papers...go to http://www.barbara-pym.org/ and search around. Great resources. In the meantime, I'm up for rereading some Pym and like Jelena's suggestion about reading the books in order and then having a virtual discussion. Anyone else game?


message 18: by Diane (new)

Diane Reading them in order and discussing each does sound fun.


message 19: by Idiosyncratic (new)

Idiosyncratic | 15 comments Oh my, I see the theme of the 2016 Cambridge conference is Some Tame Gazelle, my favourite. That would be wonderful to go to (but I can't - I'm unable to travel - long story - oh well...). I envy those who can make it.


message 20: by Denise (new)

Denise E. (deniz_erol) What are the conferences like, to those who have gone? Just curious! (And would be up for the reread as well).


message 21: by Beth (new)

Beth | 7 comments Hi all, I'm pasting in the text of the Boston Globe article in which I was quoted. This was the first one I attended. The other two were equally enjoyable but it has been some years since I went. Am planning on going this March. The article should provide a sense of what the meeting is like.

From Boston Globe, 4/12/99
by Diane White


Beth Klein of Brookline, a corporate training consultant, said she'd wondered what sort of people would show up for the first meeting of the Barbara Pym Society of North America last weekend at Harvard Law School. "I thought: Would they look like me?" she said.

By and large, they did. They were the same type at least, women in their middle years, along with a handful of young and middle-aged men. During a coffee break a photographer covering the event for a Montreal newspaper kept snapping images of sensibly shod feet, presumably to give readers a flavor of the proceedings.

It was a gathering of fans exhilarated to find themselves in a room with fellow Pym readers, eager to talk about her characters as if they were friends, able to quote favorite lines from memory. Ellen Miller, director of publications at Havard Law School, who organized the meeting, had feared a small turnout. She was gratified when 100 people registered, but disappointed that she had to turn a dozen more away for lack of space. Most of those attending were from New England and New York; some traveled from California, Washington state, Washington D.C., Ottawa, Montreal, and other relatively far-flung places.

The featured speaker, Dr. Barbara Everett, senior research fellow at Somerville College, Oxford University, traced Pym's development as a novelist from her earlier, lighter books to her later novels, deeper and richer works in which she grappled with disappointment and death. The latter were written during and after a yearlong hiatus in the 1960s and 1970s in which publishers rejected her work. One of the later books, "Quartet in Autumn," was nominated for a Booker Prize in 1977. Pym died in 1980.

It was impossible not to wonder what Pym would have made of the meeting, but surely she would have been gratified to hear readers talk among themselves about why they love her novels, about their warmth, humanity, amiablity and humor, about their capacity to comfort.

"My professional life is filled with crime and violence," Carole Jenney of Providence said over lunch. Jenney is a specialist in child abuse who teaches at Brown University. "When I go home I read Pym and tend my English garden. It keeps me sane."

The scheduled speakers approached Pym from various angles. Professor Katherine Ackerly of the University of Wisconsin talked about the role of mothers in the novels. Brother Gabriel Myers, a Benedictine monk from Washington, D.C., described a pilgrimage he and a fellow monk made to Pym-related sites in London, including some Anglican churches that served as models for churches in her fiction.

Paul DeAngelis, Pym's American publisher at E. P. Dutton during the late 1970s and 1980s, talked about their correspondence and read from some of her letters to him. Kate Charles, chair of the U. K. Pym society, an American who has lived in England for years, talked about Pym's influence on her own mystery novels ("blood-stained Barbara Pym," according to one reviewer).

Yolanthe Smit of Hoboken, N.J., delivered a satirical swipe at academics who overanalyze Pym. A bit later in the program Christopher Shields of Whitby, Ontario, a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, read from his thesis, in which he contends, among other things, that in her student days Pym established a lifelong pattern of substituting food for sex. Her fans sometimes talk about "Pym- ish" moments or situations, and here was one, right in the program. "I'd hate someone to make judgment about my sex life on the basis of what I ate when I was in college," said one woman, reaching for a reviving cup of tea following Shields's presentation.


message 22: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Leo (jennifer_lamont_leo) | 1 comments Just wondering if anyone here went to the Pym conference and, if so, what it was like.


message 23: by Louise (new)

Louise Culmer | 12 comments the earlier ones i find cheering, but the last few are a bit melancholy, they wouldn't cheer me up. But the earlier ones are on the whole a lot more cheerful. they are certainly soothing to read.


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