Dead Dames – Barbara Pym 1913-1980

Vicars, curates, white elephant stalls and afternoon tea…..Barbara Pym’s novels are replete with dog collars, jumble and domestic details but they are also so very much more. Anne Tyler credits Pym with capturing ‘the heartbreaking silliness of everyday life’, and like Jane Austen, Barbara Pym delivers the everyday minutiae of small lives while simultaneously revealing concealed darkness and miseries.

Barbara wrote steadily throughout her life but there were two quite distinct periods to her published writing career. Her first novels came out between 1950-1961 and her last between 1977-1986 (several were published posthumously).

“The wilderness” years between 1961-1977 were when she went unpublished, An unsuitable attachment was rejected by her publisher Jonathan Cape for being too old fashioned and tame. Salvation came in in 1977 when the Times Literary Supplement asked critics to name the most underated authors of the last 75 years,  Pym’s name popped up twice with both poet Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil citing her.

Now in vogue, publishers were eager to publish Pym. Quartet in autumn, short-listed for the Booker prize, and The sweet dove died came out in 1977 and 1978 and her previous novels were re-printed and introduced to an American readership. Tragically Barbara Pym died of cancer on January 11th 1980 leaving her legacy of several quietly but brilliantly observed novels.