"All This Reading": The Literary World of Barbara Pym

"All This Reading": The Literary World of Barbara Pym

"All This Reading": The Literary World of Barbara Pym

"All This Reading": The Literary World of Barbara Pym


Twenty-one years after her death, Barbara Pym's novels continue to be read and reread, discussed and debated by discerning readers. Her unique legacy is the world she created, one that is recognizably hers alone. These eighteen essays by noted scholars and critics examine the theme of reading in Pym's books. Through their various fresh approaches to the possibilities of readerly identification, a new and compellingly progressive image of Barbara Pym emerges -- that of an author engaged in an ongoing dialogue with those who consider reading a reciprocal act. The first part of the book examines the significance of reading in Pym works, both of her bookish heroines as well as for the author herself. The second part reveals literary encounters and collaborations in her life and works. The diversity and originality of these thoughtful contributions ensure a permanet place for Barbara Pym in twentieth-century literature.


I AM REMINDED OF AN INCIDENT FROM THE DISTANT PAST WHEN someone, on meeting Barbara and me with our mother, asked, “And which is the clever one?” I am afraid that she was referring to me, as I had drawn a picture of a horse at an early age and had received some sort of certificate. I am very glad that the passing of time has revealed the truth: it was Barbara, the writer.

Her first complete novel, handwritten in a hard-backed notebook, was a seventeen-year-old’s tribute to Aldous Huxley called “Young Men in Fancy Dress.” Some time after that, she invented (verbally) an elderly character called Miss Emily Moberly, who was always ready with unwelcome advice and criticism. I am sure it was this rather unexpected projection into middle and old age that led her to write Some Tame Gazelle, which began its life as a series of short pieces typed on an old machine our father had given her from his office. Barbara sent them to me (I was then staying in London with our cousins) and her friends, Henry Harvey and Robert Liddell.

I am glad, too, that she lived long enough to see recognition in the 1950s develop into something like fame in the late ’70s. Perhaps it isn’t too fantastic to feel that each of the pieces in this loving collection makes up for at least one of the years when she was, as it were, “in the wilderness.” I know how much they would have pleased her.

Hilary Pym Walton . . .

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