Does anyone read Barbara Pym today?Various people have told me over the years that I should but somehow I never borrowed her from the library or sought her out in a bookshop.She seemed just a little too quaint, a little too English, and the frequent comparisons with Jane Austen appeared a bit far fetched.
But now, two books in to the Barbara Pym collection, I’m beginning to understand the Jane Austen connection and even agree with it.There’s the same perceptiveness about human nature, the same understated humour, the same championing of lone women.And as for the clergy!If Pym’s vicars, bishops and archdeacons don’t rival Mr Collins in obsequiousness they certainly do in self-importance. These are great portraits – gently satirical but wonderfully human.The archdeacon in Some Tame Gazelle is my all-time favourite.
Philip Larkin once said that he would prefer to read a new Barbara Pym to a new Jane Austen.I’m not sure I’d go as far as that but I’m half way there. Her books are quaint, quirky, very English and may not be to the taste of everyone but they exude old fashioned charm and best of all, they are very, very funny.