"Reading Barbara Pym" stakes out new territory in Pym criticism by questioning the assumptions and predispositions by which her novels have been received and judged. Early in Pym's career, reviews of her novels likened her books in relaxed fashion to delicious tastes and smells. Later (when mention of her twice in a TLS survey as one of the century's ten most underrated novelists secured and altered her critical reception), and since her death in 1980, commentary in oppositely vigilant fashion discovered in Pym's novels academic themes and gender/political issues ripe for exploration. But the traditional concerns of academic and popular criticism have sidestepped the more challenging task of locating the power and quality of Pym's narrative, the reasons her novels are important to read personally as well as study academically. This book approaches the text of four of Pym's novels - "Some Tame Gazelle", "Quartet in Autumn", "Excellent Women", and "Jane and Prudence" - with a unique sensitivity and respect, discovering the special power (and the sometimes faltering) of Pym's art at the narrative level.
At its characteristic best the quality of Pym's text is to communicate clarities when it qualifies, certainties when it hesitates, forces when it yields - all the while engaging issues of loneliness and love and futility and significance and despair and joy, without the ponderousness of much modern literature. "Agatha is a most intelligent woman," protests a character from Pym's first novel, "Some Tame Gazelle". " 'She knows a great deal about medieval English literature. And then there's palaeography,' she continued, as if her emphatic tone would explain its importance in the married life of Agatha and the Archdeacon." The comic invocation of academic credentials may also be taken as Pym's genial deflation of equivalent efforts in literary criticism to determine the significance of her novels. Deborah Donato argues that the value of Pym's novels is more essential than the thematic, academic, contemporary concerns around which Pym criticism often revolves.
In addition to engaging reviews and more formal Pym criticism, Donato refers to noncontemporary thinkers and writers such as Lionel Trilling, George Orwell, Friedrich von Schiller, and Friedrich Nietzsche, and to noncontemporary novelists such as Elizabeth Gaskell and Aldous Huxley, whose reflections (discursive or fictional) on life and art comment on Pym's. Comparisons to the fiction of other writers whose careers overlapped Pym's (e.g., Muriel Spark, Margaret Drabble, and Anita Brookner) bring the distinction of Pym's work into focus. "Reading Barbara Pym" offers established Pym scholars new reasons to return to her novels, and invites new readers to discover the pleasures of reading Barbara Pym. For any reader unarmed with strenuous preconceptions about what a novel should do or be, Pym's novels reveal a comfortably unambitious perspective on life - or, seen oppositely, they discover a perspective that is uniquely ambitious, but ambitious to know less, at a time when more is promised and expected, of novels and of life.
Publisher: Associated University Presses
Number of pages: 128
Weight: 390 g
Dimensions: 238 x 166 x 17 mm
Edition: Annotated edition