"Harrison Solow is a writer of experience at least as diverse as that of her principal voice in this unusual, charming and astringent piece of writing which some will read as an epistolary novel (no adjectival form of the term ‘e-mail’ having yet been generated), some as both a practical and philosophical introduction to, and summing-up of, the nature and uses of literature and its discussion – and others as a delightfully readable and comic drama of the generations, of cantankerous yet worldly-wise tutor and idealistic yet impatient young American student trying to set up lines of communication about the (highly) English novelist Barbara Pym -- not to mention the strange pathways that lie between the cradle and the grave, linking even Tunbridge Wells, a West Wales butcher and Hollywood.
Harrison Solow’s creation, Mallory Cooper, while constantly negotiating a constellation of identities that range between the American, the Catholic, the Jewish, the English and the Welsh has, notwithstanding, yet to find the fence on which she might be willing to sit. This is a book of strong opinions, valiant, forthright and elegant, laid out in defiance of yea-sayers, bet-hedgers, academic bureaucrats and bureaucratic academics. It will infuriate as well as stimulate (as Mallory Cooper, who is not short of self-knowledge, well knows), prompt both wry and outright laughter and stir deeper reflections.
It should be mandatory reading for all undergraduate students of English Literature; no American students of English Literature should be allowed to set foot upon campus without having proved that they have read it (as well as answering a brief catechism on the subject of afternoon tea, high tea, dinner, supper and lunch – and explaining to Mallory Cooper’s satisfaction the significance of ‘dowdiness’ within a British context). They will be the more likely to obtain a degree if they do. After all, their tutors will certainly read it.
And if there emerges from all this a valuable reader’s guide to Barbara Pym (and there does), it is as a by-product of what is a fluent testimony and exploration of writing, reading, the significance of value, the rigours of understanding and judgement, and the fact that it is adult to realise that there are no short-cuts to scholarship. For Barbara Pym’s novels also just happen to be the subject of that first term-paper that Felicity the new student must write, a stalking-horse for the whole host of literary, cultural, philosophical and spiritual issues that restlessly inhabit Mallory Cooper (and which – one should stress -- do not specifically demand of the reader any prior knowledge of Pym to appreciate and enjoy).
~Peter Miles Emeritus Fellow of the English Association
From the introduction to Felicity & Barbara Pym
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance