An Excellent Woman
December 27, 2007 8:48 PM   Subscribe

Barbara Pym’s books focused on women who rarely make it into any spotlight, literary or otherwise: quiet, sensible, independent women of a certain age. Like the spinsters who populate her novels, her genius has been too often overlooked, but she does have her devotees.

Her novels are best taken with wintry weather and a nice cuppa.
posted by freshwater_pr0n (26 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Man I hate the term spinster. I prefer "confirmed bachelorette." Or "avoider of divorce."
posted by miss lynnster at 8:55 PM on December 27, 2007 [4 favorites]

There once was a weary old spinster
Who lived in a shack in Westminster
Though whithered and gray
Fast fading away
We called her a friend, our miss lynnster.
posted by "Tex" Connor and the Wily Roundup Boys at 9:02 PM on December 27, 2007 [1 favorite]

I hate the word spinster, too, but I used it anyways because that's the word with which many of Pym's characters would be painted, were they out in the world. I also used it because anyone who uses that word pejoratively or fearfully would be well served by reading Pym's work. Her characters are often stereotypical "spinsters," but they lead full, rich lives, and when they do find someone worthy of their love, it's a postscript, not the focus of the novel.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:08 PM on December 27, 2007

A Barbara Pym FPP, oh man. You just made my fucking decade.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:17 PM on December 27, 2007

I really prefer Upton for my tea needs, freshwater_pr0n. I also use SpecialTeas for one particular black I enjoy, their 510 China Golden Monkey.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:30 PM on December 27, 2007

Do I have to pull out a can o' whupass? Because I will.

Watch your back, "Tex"...
posted by miss lynnster at 9:47 PM on December 27, 2007

SMM, their website may not be the greatest, but Tea Embassy is a brick and mortar store in Austin, TX. They know their tea, and anyone who stops in can sit at the bar to sample the teas they have brewing and talk tea with the owners for hours. And they will. Wine, schmine.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:52 PM on December 27, 2007

There once was a woman named Lynn
Who took issue with posts about Pym
She offered ass-whuppins
For a biscuit and tuppence
Another metatalk callout begins
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 9:58 PM on December 27, 2007

There once was a user named pr0n,
who with slant rhymes went on and on,
but when ass came to whup,
pr0n's post came a-hiccup
and the rest of us drank until dawn.
posted by YamwotIam at 10:04 PM on December 27, 2007

There once were some poems that kinda sucked.
The End.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:13 PM on December 27, 2007

Tut, tut, YamwotIam. Let's put on a pot of tea and plan recipes for the distressed gentlewoman's bakesale next Sunday.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 10:27 PM on December 27, 2007

Ooh, deal, we SO have us a scone war.
posted by YamwotIam at 10:34 PM on December 27, 2007

I struggle with Pym's novels, partly because they can be unbearably sad, and I don't tend to find the humour others do (failing in me, I know). There are some good online articles about her - Pym's Cup, which starts

Some day an earnest young scholar in pursuit of a suitably narrow research topic may turn to the works of British writer Barbara Pym and compile an exhaustive index of the occasions when pots of tea are brewed and consumed in her 11 novels.

and Barbara Pym's Affectionate Irony. Being a Larkin fan, I enjoyed the article on the site in the FPP about Larkin's favourite books and music (he championed Pym's books, of course).
posted by paduasoy at 1:04 AM on December 28, 2007

I was just about to start in on Jane and Prudence when I saw this post.

I wonder how many other Pym readers there could be in this country? What if I'm the only one? Could I be the national branch of the Barbara Pym Society?
posted by pracowity at 1:54 AM on December 28, 2007

Huh. Never heard of this woman. As an old maid who's beginning to take an interest in single role models and literary portrayals, and who wants to write an anti-romance novel, I really must check her out.
posted by orange swan at 6:00 AM on December 28, 2007

Excuse me, on Pym and Larkin.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:23 AM on December 28, 2007

I always thought she was a wonderful writer, but I had no idea there was an entire Society devoted to her.

Probably because they are more funny than sad, my own favorites are Excellent Women and Some Sweet Gazelle.

You might also want to check out books by Hazel Holt, who was Pym's literary executor. She not only edited Pym's letters, she later wrote the Sheila Malory mysteries that share the atmosphere - minus the melancholy - of Pym's novels.

(I just looked through that web site. Here's a quote:
She worked for 27 years ... in London with her friend the novelist Barbara Pym whose Literary Executor she later became. Barbara Pym's "Excellent Women" was the inspiration ( much later ) for Sheila Malory.

I am going to make myself a cup of tea now...
posted by natalie b at 6:38 AM on December 28, 2007

I've never read any Pym. Where should I start?

Bachelorette sounds cutesy -- I would rather be a spinster. But I'm not one, so maybe it's none of my business.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:49 AM on December 28, 2007

*rubs eyes*

Is this for real? I never thought I'd see the day.
posted by jokeefe at 8:03 AM on December 28, 2007

I love the novels, but have a special place in my heart for her (sadly incomplete) journals, published as A Very Private Eye.
posted by jokeefe at 8:37 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've enjoyed all of her novels. Excellent Women is probably a good one to start with. There is also an online Barbara Pym discussion group.
posted by Bureau of Public Secrets at 9:57 AM on December 28, 2007

I like Pym, and have for quite a while, but I think Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner is just one of the most fabulous novels of this type, and I think it's a strong satire of the worlds that Pym created. (In Warner's novel the spinster's are witches.)
posted by OmieWise at 10:03 AM on December 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

What I like best about Pym, alongside her astonishingly economical and unobtrusive powerfully visually evocative language, is her effulgent humor, which like the light on an overcast day, casts no shadows, and seems to come from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
posted by jamjam at 10:45 AM on December 28, 2007

Where should I start?

Quartet in Autumn. (Full disclosure- I'm not really all that into her. Which may or may not add weight to the suggestion.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:08 PM on December 28, 2007

Only a few months ago I was enthusing about Barbara Pym on AskMeFi, in response to a question from thehmsbeagle, who I hope will see this thread.

I never met Barbara Pym, but I was fortunate enough to meet several people who knew her, including Henry Harvey, the love of her life ('Lorenzo' in her diaries, and 'Archdeacon Hoccleve' in her first novel Some Tame Gazelle), who even in old age was still an exceptionally handsome man who could make women go weak at the knees. It's not often one uses the word 'sexy' about a man in his eighties, but even at that age Henry still radiated sexual magnetism -- it was instantly obvious why Barbara had been smitten by him. Henry was well aware of his effect on other people (men as well as women) and must have been insufferable when young (he freely admitted that he had treated Barbara very badly). Barbara Pym knew all about unrequited love, and unrequited sexual desire, and that knowledge lies underneath all her novels and makes them very much more than cosy tales of spinsters among the teacups.
posted by verstegan at 6:50 AM on December 29, 2007 [3 favorites]

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