Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Pym was born in Oswestry, Shropshire. After studying English at St Hilda's College, Oxford, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II. Her literary career is noteworthy because of the long hiatus between 1963 and 1977, when, despite early success and continuing popularity, she was unable to find a publisher for her richly comic novels.
The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most underrated writer of the century. Her comeback novel, Quartet in Autumn, was nominated for the Booker Prize.
Pym worked at the 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 shared a cottage at Finstock in Oxfordshire with her younger sister, Hilary. Barbara Pym died of cancer.
Her novels include:
- Some Tame Gazelle (1950)
- Excellent Women (1952)
- Jane and Prudence (1953)
- Less than Angels (1955)
- A Glass of Blessings (1958)
- No Fond Return Of Love (1961)
- Quartet in Autumn (1977)
- The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
- A Few Green Leaves (1980)
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 church. 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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