An Excerpt from a Chapter of Felicity & Barbara Pym
Thank you for your email ― I am glad that our correspondence seems to be of help. And you have finished Some Tame Gazelle. Now we begin.
Your notes aren’t bad. You have touched on a few themes that Pym’s biographers, editors, and critics analyse repeatedly: Silly men. Mousy women. Tea. Religion. Quotations. These are worthy of mention. The fact that you still think nothing happens is not. It merely shows that you do not respond to what does happen in the novel, for whatever reason ― innocence, feminism, scepticism, youth, cynicism, thoughtlessness, expectation, or too rapid and therefore too shallow reading of the novel ― too light, perhaps, a perception of the economy of expression Miss Pym employs.
This is not to say that you must respond to what happens in any particular way nor even like these works; I merely point out that a good many things happen. I will list a few of them:
Three proposals, (plus another, if one counts Bishop Grotes’ reconstituted offer to poor Connie Aspinall) two marriages (ditto), self-discovery, self esteem ― a little spurt of power. Laughter happens. Some measure of levity happens. Tea is poured, in ritual obeisance to something everyone (at least in this novel) wants, and conveys: a sense of belonging, a place, a value. Tenderness happens – care is given and received. Uncertainties are created – then, miraculously removed. A loved one is remembered. A sense of satisfaction prevails.
Are none of these “events” that you would seek for yourself? If these things happened to you, would you regard them all, equally, as nothing?
You ask me again why you should read literature. I feel I should not answer you. It is a question posed by an undergraduate to whom the questioning of established conventions is still a novel and somewhat heady experience undertaken for its own sake. Why ask me? I did not choose your course of study. You could have taken sociology, physics, or architecture. You have circumscribed your own world, for the coming semester at least. There is no point to the question if you yourself cannot answer it. Why should you read literature?
Perhaps you should not.
However, I suspect you feel you would like to, and that is the basis of your irritation with silly men, mousy women, tea, religion, and quotations. Is this worthy of the august company of Dante, Proust, Dostoyevsky? It may interest you to know that Barbara Pym felt as you do, when she was about your age – reading Aldous Huxley, and imagining herself in a more glittering, a more significant, world. And so to protect herself from an unbearable exclusion from that world, she wrote a novel, Young Men in Fancy Dress, in hope, her biographer says, of becoming part of it..."
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