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Barbara Pym's catalogue of papers my working edition


Catalogue of the papers of Barbara Mary Crampton Pym (1913-80)


University of Oxford, Bodleian Library


Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts




A    Literary papers and notebooks


A.1   Papers relating to particular works 


Shelfmarks: MSS. Pym 1-39


Typescript fair copy of early draft of Some Tame Gazelle (1950), begun July 1934?
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 2/1-2
Extent: iii + 604 leaves, foliated in one sequence


Extent: 70 leaves




Four notebooks containing manuscript drafts of 'So Very Secret: A Spy Novel', ( Civil


The draft starts (p.1): “I first met Mrs. Daliers (scraped) Napier when I was taking  the dustbin down one Saturday afternoon”. . . “ ‘I don’t suppose I will be in much’ said Mrs. Napier quickly and bluntly”


p.2 “ ‘I don’t know what Rockingham will say when he knows when I’ve landed’


‘Rockingham!’ I exclaimed unable to help myself   ‘is that really your husband’s name?’ She laughed . ‘Yes and he looks like it.’ She said. ‘I’m sorry !’ I said. I didn’t mean to laugh. It’s a very dignified name.’ ‘And Rockingham is a very dignified man,’ she said.  ‘He wouldn’t like having to share a bathroom’, she added.


‘Oh well, I’m always very quick, I said. ‘And I’m a clergyman’s daughter’. (first time it is introduced) We both laughed at this and the tension seemed to be relaxed,. . .”      





Seven notebooks containing a manuscript draft of An Unsuitable attachment (1982), begun Aug. 1960
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 19/1-7
iii + 316 leaves, foliated in one sequence




Iv 203 “Oh the other one – the good looking dark one/ young man. But surely . .  she broke off.


“Surely what?”


“He isn’t the sort of person one would marry”


“I don’t know – I haven’t – I mean, hasn’t got to that sort of stage yet”
 “Oh I see” Sophia said. “You just love him”.


The way in which Sophia said it made Ianthe repent (rather) that she had told her.


Of course, Sophia thought, Ianthe might well love somebody I a sort of general Christian way. She remembered the hymn


For the love of humankind Brother, sister, parent child.


It had always seemed hard to Sophia that one’s love was love limited to relatives in this way. And then the human tone ….pleasures pure and undefined….” (the rest is very similar to the published  version.




A.2   Literary notebooks, 1948-79 


Shelfmarks: MSS. Pym 40-82


I, 1948-9
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 40  p. 21 “John Betjeman’s Reading


 Poems in 3 classes




Love- (oh very strong , especially so in this hot weather)


Fear of death”


p. 23 “Excellent Women enjoying discomfort – one can go mad! Electric fire, huddled in coats”


p. 25 “A Religious Conference – plain living and high thinking”


“Miss Lathbury can go into the church for comfort, but the atmosphere is not propitious ; the organist comes in – people are busling”
Extent: 32 leaves




VIII, 1955-6
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 47: p. 26 A “Fr. Thames  is slightly disappointed. A woman says in a Trollopian  way  ‘he had hoped to be made Archdeacon”
Extent: i + 32 leaves


A.3   Miscellaneous literary papers 


Shelfmarks: MSS. Pym 83-100



 Shelfmark: MS. Pym 88 p. 5. Books for Desert Island:  Jane Austen’s novel Persuasion 6 “Desert Island Discs : “6)Tosca Vissc d’arte or. R. (in Italian) Callas Recondita Harmonia.” 
Extent: i + 48 leaves, 20-45 blank


  •  (fols. 5v-6) 'Desert Island Discs'


Notebook containing a chronology of the 19th century, 1803-1890s, n.d.
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 89
Extent: i + 85 leaves


p. 36  a cutting from the Church Times 100 Years ago – May 24, 1872


“The Wymering May Fete- The grounds of Wymering House never appeared to a better advantage., the flowers, trees, and the extensive carpet like lawn, wearing a freshness and beauty seldom surpassed. The procession was headed by Mr. Caffin, who bore a brilliantly jewlled processional cross, followed by two thurifers, vested in scarlet cassocks and zucchettos. Next came fourteen choristers, in violet cassocks and white surplices, and following these the adult choristers. The Vicar (the Rev. G. Nugee) and the curate (the Rev. Mr. Smith) immediately succeeded the choir and wore long cassocks, short surplices heavily bordered with valuable lace, and stoles richly embroided with gold. The two splendid banners of the church were carried in the midst of the choir”. 


1873 p. 37-39 The Pillars of the House (analysis (Wilmet and Alda –twins “Wilmet is the good one.  Alda more worldly


45 1878 LMH founded (principal Elizabeth Wandwath?(46) quoting from Chapman , 1968 p.10?


 p. 52 “Four Victorian Ladies of Wiltshire Edith Olivier a quote from p. 35 of Four Victorian Ladies


p. 53 ( quote from p.35 Pym is using the information from the book for her journal).


1886. St. Hugh’s hall founded “in the autumn of 1886 four students gathered under the presidency of Miss C.A.E. Moberly in a semi detached villa in Norham Road. . [sic[ ‘ no library , no chapel, hardly any garden, no tennis and no boat’.


As so in this year women were admitted to University Examination.


p.The nineties “Women were admitted by most lectures though if there was only one she must be admitted by a chaperone who clacked her knitting-needles with sublime indifference during the whole hour” (it is a quote not written where from) (it is interesting to note that in 1893 Pym does not write the date St. Hilda’s was founded)


With cuttings and notes inserted.



Notebooks containing miscellaneous extracts, notes and drafts, n.d.
Shelfmark: MSS. Pym 90-1
Extent: i + 16, 22 (10-22 blank) leaves mo 90 p. 2 a list of flowers blooming in March (13th and onwards): Camellias, Daffodils abundance of primroses in the woods.  middle of April : polyanthes?, wall flower, daffodils , still, End of April: Rhodedendrons start – magnolias, Azeleas, Bluebells. May: Rhodendendrons. Jungle like profusion. June : wet weather Rhodedendrons have rather had it (rermica termica?). Roses on l(c?)epe Love in a mist,



Short stories, mainly unpublished and undated typescripts and manuscripts
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 92
Extent: 277 leaves
Arrangement: MSS. Pym 92-4 are arranged alphabetically by first word of title in one sequence
Note: Typescript unless otherwise stated


  • (fols 129-65) 'The English Ladies', draft and fair copies:




English Ladies MS 92


126 “Eleanor closed her eyes. She really hadn’t the energy to disagree. Throughout the many years of their friendship so much of their conversation had consisted of these little arguments, the automatic contradiction of each other’s statements,.


147 (on vacation)  “two middle-ages civil servants”


“She  had forgotten to take off her spectacles before dozing off, and the woman’s magazine she had been reading lay open on her breast, showing a holiday picture, a young 150 woman in a more scanty bathing costume that would have been allowed here, and a young man bending over her. Both were of an astonishing beauty.


Well, nothing like that will happen on our holiday, Eleanor told herself, sensibly without regret. One did not expect that kind of thing any more and it made life much easier”.


150 “ Like many unmarried women her manner with children was awkward; she was a little afraid of them, not knowing what it was that their serious disconcerting eyes saw.”


152 “They sat down almost with resignation now, knowing themselves to be English women abroad, with white shoes and handbags and pale patterned cotton dresses that did not fit tightly enough. Even their hair and faces looked all one colour, a washed-out  beige or grey”


153 (Looking longingly at children during the vacation) “Every day, too, [Eleanor]she looked out for the little boy at the window and he was nearly always there. Sometimes she saw him going out with his mother and she felt quite disappointed if a day passed without a sight of him. He never spoke or even smiled but his solemn silence only added to his attraction. Eleanor began to regret that she had never married and had children of her own. Once some years ago, she had had a proposal of a marriage from an uninteresting man whom she had refused without giving the matter a second thought, but now she found herself remembering Basil and wondering what their children would have been like. It was of course unlikely that she would marry now, but was it not possible that she might adopt a child, some dark-eyes war orphan from a foreign country?”


“Dorothy was busy noticing other things. As a staunch protestant she found that there was something disturbing and exciting about being in a Catholic country. ..Mass. . .that dark, sinister word that Dorothy could hardly bring herself to pronounce. And then there were the shops, full of rosaries and statues, and the churches 154 so dark and mysterious, with unintelligible services going on all the times, it seemed. And the priests – never had she seen so many priests all at once. 


About having a child in the home 155


‘A child in the house?’ said Dorothy in amazement. Not in our house, I should  hope’


‘No, not in our house,’ Eleanor felt a warm satisfaction at the thought of their comfortable orderly home which they would be seeing so soon. ‘That seems very unlikely, somehow.’


‘I should think so !’ said Dorothy vigorously. ‘Why it would be like. . .’ she searced about for a suitably fantastic comparison,’ like me becoming a Roman Catholic, or something extraordinary like that.’


Now that they were going home she had decided not to mention to Eleanor how much attracted she had been by the dangerous things she had seen here and how she had almost begun to toy with the idea of finding out something more about it. It was just the kind of wild idea one had on a holiday and Eleanor would never have understood”     


 . .  


  • (fols. 166-99) 'A Few Days Before Winter', two copies




167”A couple of school mistresses on holiday” ( avery nice romantic story about a woman who goes back to the hotel where she and her husband had their honeymoon in time of trouble





Short stories, mainly unpublished and undated typescripts and manuscripts
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 94
Extent: 301 leaves
Arrangement: MSS. Pym 92-4 are arranged alphabetically by first word of title in one sequence
Note: Typescript unless otherwise stated .  recheck


  • (fols. 1-15) 'Mothers and Fathers' – (“Miss Pym was forty three years old”, the married middle age Hilary and her husband Harry, still has a Mr. Harvey: 3.  “‘Well, we will leave it,’ said Hilary in a contended tone of voice, dismissing her husband to the background where he belonged”
  •  probably late 3o’sor early 40’s  Mothers and Fathers






  • (fols. 16-30) 'A Painted Heart'
  • (fols 31-57) 'The Pilgrimage', two copies
  • (fols. 58-75) 'Poor Mildred':






  • (fols. 76-117, 121-131) 'The Rich Man in His Castle', two drafts and a final *version: 121: a story within a story a frame work of people touring the castle and upon a child picking a lemon a memory of 122 “other words, spoken fifty, sixty, seventy years ago. . .


p 126: “Fanny herself analysed her feelings for Edward. She only knew that it was wonderful to feel happy again. Her heart filled with joy and thankfulness as she stood in the church on those spring Sunday mornings. It was a dear little church and Grandpapa 127 had had it restored so beautifully, with fine new pews, tiled floor and bright stained glass windows. The old Peverill tombs and monuments looked almost shabby in such a setting. The congregation were as happy and prosperous as the church – the party from the castle, the rectory pew full of young children, the tenant farmers with their families. Their voices rose very heartily as they sang the hymn All things bright and beautiful , and no voice sounded more sweetly than Fanny’s.


The rich man in his castle


The poor man in his gate


God made them high or lowly


And ordered their estate


She was too happily intent to notice that Edward was not singing. In fact , had she thought about it, she would have realized that he hardly ever did sing in church. Although he had a fine baritone voice and always joined with them in the evenings when they sang songs from Sir Arthur Sullivan’s operas.


‘A capital sermon! The rector preached splendidly today. . . ‘Fanny came out into the bright sunshine. ‘One ought to be thankful to be alive on a day like this, when all things really are bright and beautiful,’ she said.


Edward said nothing. He and Fanny were a little behind the rest of the party and he seemed to be walking especially slowly, as if he did not want to catch them up.


‘You can’t really believe that ,’ he said at last, and quoted in a low bitter tone.


 The rich man in his castle


The poor man in his gate. . .


128 ‘You can’t really think that God made them high or lowly and ordered their estate’


‘But yes,’ said fanny in a puzzled tone. ‘We are put on earth to do our duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call us. You know that, Edward.’ Her voice was gentle but a little reproachful.


‘You duty’ said Edward bitterly, ‘well I suppose you do what you can, my poor Fanny, with your bowls of nourishing soup and red flannel petticoats, and the Christmas tree for the tenants. . .’


Fanny looked up at him with frightened eyes; she had never heard him speak like this before.


‘You are tired,’ she ventured timidly. ‘You have been studying too hard.’


‘I should never have come here at all, ’he said more gently. ‘This is not my kind of life and perhaps it isn’t yours either, Fanny.’


‘But what other kind of life could I have?’ she asked, puzzled.


‘Oh, you couldn’t understand,’ he went on, ‘the whole system is wrong. I wanted to tell you that I am going away tomorrow.’






‘Miss Venables, is it right. . .’ fanny began


‘What,my dear?’


‘About the rich man in his castle and the poor man at his gate? Perhaps it isn’t. Edward was talking about it when we came out of church.’


‘Mr. Carey has very advanced ideas,’ said Miss Venables.’ I don’t think your mother would like it if she knew that he had been talking to you about such things.’


130 ‘ He felt he could not ask you to share the kind of life that will be his . . .’


‘But he is a gentleman. Mama said his mother was  well connected.’


‘Yes ,my dear, but he is going to live in the East End of London and work among the poor.’


‘The poor?’  Fanny sounded bewildered. ‘But surely that must be splendid work?’


. *


‘. . . Splendid work. . . ‘ the young man read from the brass tablet.  I suppose the Victorians did do some good, but look how they ruined their churches-all this pious ‘restoration’, this hideous pitch pine pews and garish stained –glass windows. But there’s an interesting old tomb over there and the screen’s good. Come and have a look.


The young man and woman had broken away from the party of sight-seers and reached the church before them. there wasn’t much to see in the castle, really, but she had wanted to look in the church for the memorial tablet to lady Frances Carey, who had founded the settlement 132 where she had been doing a year’s training in social work. And now here it was, underneath a tablet to two girls, Frances’s sisters presumably. . .Charlotte and Rose, Dearly Beloved Daughters of the Earl and Countess of Peverill.   It was rather sad, really those two girls, dying in the same year and so young, too. Perhaps that was what had led Frances to take up her ‘splendid work’. Was it true that she had run away to marry Edward Carey, aided and abetted by the governess? It sounded fantastic; all those who remembered lady Frances at the settlement said she had been such a formidable old lady. . .


‘I wonder if the rich man in his castle does teas?’ asked the young man. ‘Did you see a notice anywhere? I think we’d better make a move before the rst of the crowd gets here..’ 










 (fols 247-59) 'The Unfinished Flower’: 1937 a short story told in the first person by a middle aged “plain looking woman, but I believe I have a kind face”(255). She  buys a screen with an unfinished embroidered flower at a  dead woman’s estate sale of whom she has always been curious :248”curiosity –which has always been one of my greatest fault-“


  •  (Miss Holly “ looked about seventy years old and was always dressed in black. I decided that she had been crossed in love when she was young, and as nobody seemed to know anything about her I had to be content with that”.(248)  and finds out the sad story behind the screen that was made as a wedding present for a cousin whose fiancé finally married  the embroidering cousin and lived within for forty years unhappily until he dies on the day that the heroine puts the screen in to her drawing room. .   




258 “ Forty years! I should think she had paid for it. There are times when I feel glad that I am a plain-looking and that nobody has ever wanted to marry me. Forty years seems too long to be married to any one, in my opinion, but of course a spinster cannot know very much about such things”


  • (fols. 260-9) 'Un past Alps'
  • (fols. 270-91) 'The Unusual Ornament'


282 “She had been shocked to learn that Honor was not only bored with her husband, as anyone might be, but really hated him. “  


  • (fols. 292-300) 'The White Elephant' (formerly entitled 'The Jumble Sale') 1949; The idea of finding someone you know (and loved  in the Jumble sale- a curate : 299” Miss Banks Tolliver picked it up and stared in shocked amazement at the solemn-looking young clergyman in his high collar. A strange feeling came over her; Arthur Gorringe, after all these years! She felt she would have liked to sit down, but there were no chairs so she had to stand, holding the photograph in her hand.”
  • . . .“Perhaps it served Mr. Gorringe right, that his photograph should have been sent to a jumble sale 300 and sold for four pence on the White Elephant stall. The White Elephant Stall .Miss Bankes Tolliver suddenly smiled to herself as she looked again at the pale, ponderous face, the small eyes, the rather large ears. Had Arthur Gorringe really looked like that? White Elephant. . . perhaps the same irreverent thought had occurred to Alice Hogarth, for it had seemed so strange that she could have cared so little as to send his photograph to a jumble sale. And yet, when one came to think of it, perhaps it wasn’t so very strange after all. For that was surely one of the sad but comfortable things about life, that after a time one didn’t care anymore. , . 




Typescripts of radio broadcasts and scripts for Excellent Women, submitted to the BBC, 1952
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 95 starts in April 1952


Extent: i + 119 leaves: the first characterization of Mrs. Napier’s speech :”abruptly”(fols 1:2)”You must be Miss Lathbury” p. 3 “Rockingham I snatched at the name as if it had been a  x (sic) precious jewel in the dustbin. Mr. Napier was called Rockingham. X How the bearer of such a name would hate sharing a bathroom (the xes are on the margin of the page) p. 4 about the inquisitive spinsters and the tea in manuscript that is what “I had been wanting” here there is no such reaction to the invitation to tea.


p. 6 “I could just see the church spire through the trees in the square. Now when they were leafless, it looked beautiful, springing up among the pooling stucco fronts of the houses, prickly Victorian-Gothic , hideous inside, I  suppose, but very dear to me.”




p.7 “a cause very near my own hear ….(the same as in the novel” Mrs. Napier, with her gay trousers and her anthropology, obviously never would”


p. 14 “Surely you and your husband have other things in common, though, perhaps deeper and more lasting than work?”


15 “Of course ,” Mrs. Napier went on, “when you’re fist in love, everything about the other person seems delightful, especially if it shows the difference between you. Rocky’s very tidy and I’m not”. . . . “But surely that’s only a detail,” I said, :”and it ought not to affect the deeper relationship”


p.17 introduction to the third radio installment: “Helena confides to Mildred that she is not really looking forward to his return as she feels that she has much more in common with Everard Bone, a fellow anthropologist with whom she has worked. Mildred feels that as a clergyman’s daughter she is rather out of her depth, and can only hope that when the Napiers are reunited    the situation will improve”>




introduction to installment 6. p. 40:


“In contrast to the excellent women of the parish are the Napiers”


(the paper) p. 43 “It was rather humiliation to realize that everybody in the room but me understood”


p. 49 in the introduction to the 7th installment Pym does not talk at all about Mildred’s love to Rocky but about “Helena seems to be in love with Everard Bone”. . .  in the paper and after “Mildred finds it rather uncomfortable evening. Everard behaves very coldly to Helena and Mildred finds him difficult to talk to”


The installment starts: “Love was rather a terrible thing, I decided next morning remembering the undercurrents of the evening before. Not perhaps my cup of tea. It would be best not to see too much of the Napiers and their disturbing kind of life, but to meet only people like Julian and Winifred Malory and others connected with the church”


p. 64 intro to install 10 : “She is not very happy about this, for although she had not wanted him for herself, Mildred feels that Allegra is not the right wife for him” (still no mention of her crash on Rocky)


p. 80 into to no 11 “Mildred is left to comfort Rocky”


“Mildred feels unable to bear the strain of the situation any longer , and escapes to the kitchen where she feels that neither of the men will follow her, especially as there is a large accumulation of washing up to do”


p. 108 introduction to 15: Mildred Lathbury has become so involved in the affairs of her friends and neighbours that she is almost compensated for being unmarried and living alone”. . . “Now there does not seem very much left for her to do apart from her work as an “excellent woman” in the parish, unless she can be of any use to the anthropologist EB, whom she is gradually learning to like.”,,   .




Miscellaneous papers, 1922-79
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 98
Extent: 129 leaves




  • (fols. 1-12) programme, libretto and photographs of the cast of an 'opera' by Barbara Pym, 'The Magic Diamond', 1922
  • (fols. 21, 23) copy and original of her birth certificate :




18-20 a program from 1946 of Royal Opera House Covent garden in the C.M.F. San carlo Opera Company (San carlo Thetre , Naples) 1946(within the story of the opera)


  • 32- ad raft to the TLS(no date)”The Excellent Women theme: I’d probably noticed that unmarried women seemed to be expected to do kinds of things that nobody else was willing to do and of course having got the idea I exaggerated it a little after all art must improve on life-fiction be a bit more interesting and amusing than things that happen every day”
  • (fols 41-55) notes, drafts and correspondence as assistant editor of Africa, 1970-3, n.d.
  • 56-73 The Novelist’s Use of Every Day Life (A Talk given in Barnes in the 1950’s no specific date): 57 “We might use Christopher Isherwood ‘s phrase ‘I am  a camera’ to  describe the process by which the novelist records his impression of life. But the novelist’s camera is a selective one, picking and choosing, recording some things clearly, rejecting others altogether. And it is obvious that the camera of one novelist may record quite different things from that of another. . . . The writer  like the singer has a range and if he is wise he will keep within that range. . . You  would not trouble to write down in your note book something that didn’t interest you. The selective process is at work again , showing that all of everyday life is not for every novelist, but that each one must make use of some of it..
  • 58 There are four main ways in which he does this. In setting or background, plot, character and dialogue.
  • First of all, then, the setting or background.. . 59  But all authors don’t live in exciting or inspiring places- the ones that do must be the exceptions. Many especially nowadays, live in ordinary flats and houses in apparently uninteresting surroundings-60  as Jane Austen did of course. But their use of their surroundings as a setting for novels is no less interesting..
  • I think many people enjoy the kind of novel that they might be living in themselves, and that constantly reminds them of their own lives. More amusing, more  interesting perhaps but familiar. And  sometimes much worse, but still probable – the kind of thing that could happen, but fortunately doesn’t very often.  I always think that reading these novels is like looking in through a window. You’re interested in what is going on in the house but glad not to be inside it To take an example from the theatre , I feel that the plays of Tchehkov have this quality.  . .. Then there are the many modern novels set in a contemporary framework, which are so contemporary and contain so much detail that they will probably very soon become dated because of that. In a few years time the Espresso  coffee bar will have given place to some new undreamed-of fashionable place of refreshment – though presumably the pub, having stood the test of a good many years, will not. It is very difficult for the novelist to know what to put in and what to leave out. I suppose the answer is that details should come in naturally and not appear dragged in to give a sense of period, as they sometimes are in bad historical novels. . . . But, on the other hand, when we are reading, we do want details.. . ..Denton Welch [again]  writes in his 61 journal ‘ I wish that people would mention the tiny things of their lives that give them pleasure or fear or wonder. I would like to hear the details of their houses, their meals, and their possessions.’ . And I think we do enjoy hearing about such things not necessarily for social history but because they are pleasing in themselves. One wishes sometimes Jane Austen had given us more detail about her heroines’ clothes- what, for example, did Emma wear, when she went to dinner at the Coles’. . .
  • Modern novelists do, I think, give us more of these interesting details. . . . . (About  the plot): 63 The Novelist dealing with everyday life is much more fortunate: (Than the historian –Orna) for it is really his business to see that things ‘happen as they ought’. I suppose we find this carried to ridiculous extremes in those magazine stories which always have happy ending. But even when a story cannot logically, or at the moment when the novels ends, be given a happy ending, the novelist should perhaps at least hold out some hope for his characters and show that their lives will goon somehow. This is not always easy to achieve and the reader sometimes has to be asked to help the novelist out. (Mansfield Park is Pym’s example). . .
  • 64 The novelist has to do a good deal of improving upon life at all stages of the plot. Life is very untidy and messy. . .
  • “I must now mention another use which the novelist may make of everyday life, and perhaps the most obvious one to the non-writer. That is the deliberate seeking out of experience to use in fiction. I am not sure whether this happens very often, at least cold-bloodedly and consciously.(Flaubert ‘s going to the funeral). . . And yet how often things do happen to the novelists , or to his friends , which he could use in a book and 65 wonders if he dare do it. Perhaps he stores them away in his mind or in his ‘little book’ (most novelists do have little books, I think) in the hope that one day, when there is no likelihood of the people concerned being hurt or offended, he may be able to write about them. Or , if the experience has happened to himself and is a painful one, until he can bear to go over it again. Sometimes it can be a comfort to make one’s own experience into a book, though this isn’t realized at the time.
  • 66 (Characters)  I think authors very seldom take a character straight from life, they are nearly always composite figures and the greatest source of material for character drawing is probably the author’s own self. Even when a novel isn’t obviously autobiographical one can learn a good deal about a novelist from his works, for he can hardly avoid putting something of himself into his creations. I don’t suppose anybody nowadays would be likely to think of Jane Austen as a quiet spinster who had never known love but only imagined it. In Persuasion , the most beautiful and satisfying of all  of all her novels (I think) she writes of Ann Elliot in such a way that one feels she must herself have experienced Anne’s desolate tranquility –a peculiarly vivid phrase to describe a certain state of mind, better known, I imagine, to women than to men. And again, towards the end, when 67 Anne finds that the letter she had thought Captain Wenworth was writing to somebody else is really for her.
  • Such a letter was not seem to be recovered from half an hour solitude and reflection might have tranquillised her, but the ten minutes only which now passed before she was interrupted with all the restraints of her situation, could do nothing toward tranquility. Every moment rather brought forth  fresh agitation.  It was an overpowering happiness 
  • I cannot but think that the author must have experienced that feeling
  • This is not to say that all heroes or heroines have much of their author in them, but  they usually have something. Most of an author’s characters will be composite portraits – something real and a good deal more imagined. You will have noticed, I expect, how well some men succeed in drawing female characters, and women in drawing male characters. And you will also have noticed how (-often  she crosses that out) they sometimes fail. When  they are successful –is it because of loving and meticulous observation of people in real life or because they have unusually vivid imaginations? I think probably the former.
  • And now a word about the words characters in novels are made to say- dialogue- surely one of the most difficult aspects of writing. How is the novelist to make people appear to speak as they would in everyday life? I say “appear to speak”   because most “real” dialogue is quite unusable by the novelist. It is far too rambling 68 and incoherent and it very seldom, as dialogue in a book must drive? (do) anything toward furthering the plot. You often hear that the art of conversation has died out, but I sometimes wonder how far it ever really existed as an art.. . . Admittedly intelligent people will talk more brilliantly than ordinary people, but in a novel even ordinary people must be made less ordinary than they would be in everyday life. Dialogue must be made to do far more than our everyday conversation does. It must show characters and it must help the story along though sometimes even the novelist must be allowed a few banal sentences. – Somebody must offer the heroine another cup of tea. And she must be allowed to accept or refuse it. Can dialogue ever be taken straight from everyday life? Sometimes we hear a vivid phrase or even a whole conversation that interests us-I should say overhear , because usually we’re in a bus or a café the conversation isn’t meant for us. But generally dialogue needs very careful editing and stylizing.. . (example of Jane Austen’s dialogue Miss Bates and Charlotte Bronte , Modern writer Ivy Campton Burnett Pym brings example from her book Mother and Son). . 69
  • 72 The point seems to be, as I see it, that everyday life by itself needs something doing to it before it can make a satisfactory novel..
  • I consider that this is probably the greatest of the novelist’s gifts- the power to describe ordinary things so that the reader finds his own sensibility increased and looked at his own everyday life in a new way.     








  • (fols. 56-123) texts of autobiographical talks and articles with related correspondence, 1953-79 to xerox  74-89


22 May 1978 (84-5)


Sent to Ian Hamilton the editor to the questions of “the development of fiction in English over the last ten years”, and “developments you would hope for” (no date p.87) answer New Review:


“My aims as a novelist have been to reflect life as I see it, in all the aspects I’ve had experience of (and a few that I haven’t).  I am well aware that plots are not my strongpoint but I do feel that the everyday happenings of life are in their way as interesting as the more exciting things. I have sometimes been criticized for my love of triviality but I like detail in other people’s novels and try to provide it in my own.(incidentally., I have never consciously tried to imitate Jane Austen, but any writer who admires her – and who doesn’t- must hope to acquire  the tiniest scrap of her qualities if he or she writes about the same kinds of people and settings)”


“My attitude towards life, religion and ‘morality’ will no doubt come out in my novels! I did once say, and I believe it’s true, that the most important influences for me had been  English Literature and the Church of England. (Should I have put the other way round?- I’m not sure! I suppose I criticize and mock at the clergy and the C. of E. because I am fond of them, and the same might be said about my attitude towards men. Some people have thought that I don’t perhaps like men very much because of the way I have written about  (some of them , but that is not true. I have always liked men very much (even though I haven’t married), but I have been able to look at them with detachment, a quality I  admire and try to bring to all my writing, the way I look at all my characters. I think I acquired  the ability to use the detached approach because of my work with the anthropologists, in the days when I had a job at the International African Institute in London.  Used to see how they did ‘fieldwork’ and consciously or unconsciously I found myself applying this technique to the way I looked at my characters.


By the way, my attitude to ‘morality’ seems less relevant in  one’s  sixties, and perhaps as life goes on?”


The only types of less prestigious fiction that have really flourished have been the historical  and romantic novels, almost never reviewed but obviously read and enjoyed by many. But for the rest, the ones who write what for lack of a better or more exact definition I am calling ‘ordinary’ novels, set in the present day, it has often seemed that the only way to get published is to change the scene of your action into Regency times!”


“And I would of course like to feel that there is hope for the ‘ordinary’ novel(well written, of course!) that is neither trendy nor romantic nor historical, the kind of novel that (in spite of what some publishers may think) quite a lot of people still want to read”






Miscellaneous papers, 1973, n.d.
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 99
Extent: i + 173 leaves




  • (fols. 1-2) two poems by Barbara Pym, 1973, n.d:
  •  a story about the spinsters Barbara and Hilary written after Oxford 18-23.. “ ‘Oh dear’, sighed Barbara, putting down the vest she was knitting for the Nazi exiles in Africa”. . . Of course it had been rathe extravagant of her to use such an expensive wool to knit a Charity garment , but she excused herself by remarking that after all the Nazis were rather “special people” Friedbert had been a Nazi. “Dear Friedbert”, she murmured, rolling her eyes. 20: she was wondering whether to wear her little swastika brooch or not. Dear Friedbert had been so pleased at this sign of her presumable sympathy with the National Socialist Party. ‘Die Deutche ugend liebt ihr Vaterland’. . . how did the rest of it go, something about following the furher, anyway she had it written on the speech of Hitler’s that Friedbert had sent her once, such a long time ago.. 21Liebfraumilch always reminded Barbara of the Rhineland which she had visited in the spring when she was twenty. The nazis were young and arrogant then and she had hardly known which she liked best Hanns of Friedbert. 22 “’the sad state of the poor Nazis in Africa is a subject very dear to my heart’ ‘Yes’ said Mr. Harvey ‘ we must do all we can for them. Of course I suppose everyone realized that the Nazi regine could not last for ever. Hitler was a powerful personality, but after he went there was really no one to lead them’. Barbara had always thought that Friedbert would make a good Fuhrere, and much handsomer than Hitler.    




about Kebele college in reaction to the news that the Bodleian library extensions in that story: “’what a pity they were not able to have Keble as well’ thought Barbara, it was such a hideous building”(20)




Printed material, 1944-60,
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 100
Extent: 76 leaves




  • (fols. 1-12) agreements with Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1949-60
  • (fols. 13-76) miscellaneous items, c.1944-57, including (fols. 49-75) programmes for performances of operas in Naples, Saturday February 17th 1945- at 19,00 hrs. another  programme of Tosca season 1944-45no- 49-55 Real Theatro di Carlo  season 1944-45 Under the Authorities of the British Military Authorities naples. Cavalleria Rustic and I Pagliacci  (no exact date) 56-61and a Grand  Operatic Concert Wednesday 15th Novemeber 1944 62-75
  • (fol. 76) a map of Rome




B   Diaries, and a memoir, 1932-79




C   Correspondence


Letters, 1934-41
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 153
202 leaves


  • (fols. 1-24) from Donald Liddell, 1940-1
  • (fols. 25-153) from J.R. Liddell, 1934-6, including
    • (fols. 130-2, 139-43) letters from Henry Harvey [1935/6, n.d.]
  • (fols. 154-97) to J. R. Liddell from Barbara Pym and Ivy Compton-Burnett, 1936-40




  • (fols. 198-202) an account by J. R. Liddell of his friendship with Barbara Pym, 1981 : 199


: According to Liddell Rockingham was named after  “a well known hymn tune”







Letters from Barbara Pym to R.S. Smith, 1952-69
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 162/1: 19 BP went to Rome and then to Amalfi on April11th 1961.
Extent: 90 leaves
Acquisition: Given by R.S. Smith, 1981



Letters from Barbara Pym to R.S. Smith, 1970-9
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 162/2 164” 9th October 1977 Harvest Festival” in the letter to Bob:  about different reviews of Quartet: “ The only less favourable ones have been in the Sunday Telegraph not bad, but the woman obviously didn’t like BP type novels-and the New Stateman – again not bad, but the reviewer thought my novels must have had mainly Oxbridge readers (and what is wrong with that,  as Philip Larkin said to me. . .   : “ I had quite a lot of letters from various people, including several from people who say they have always liked my novels and thought I was dead”
78 leaves Acquisition:
Given by R.S. Smith, 1981



Letters, 1951-79
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 162/3 :
Extent: 76 leaves


  • (fols. 1-21) from Elizabeth Taylor (novelist), 1951-68
  • (fols 22-67) from Margaret and Roger Till, with poems by Roger Till, 1976-9
  • (fols. 68-76) from The Times, 1977-8, including (fols. 70-2) article titled, 'Only a Novel - Some Personal Reflections:
  • Jane Austen’s defence of the novel in Northanger Abbey is, I imagine to well-known to need quoting again, but I suspect that even now some who would claim to know the passage, and who come upon it with pleasure when re-reading the book, may be just the kind of people who would maintain ,usually with pride , that of course they never have time to read modern novels. The exception may be what they classify as light’ holiday’ reading  or, very occasionally, a particular novel recommended by somebody whose opinion they value.
  • ‘And what are you reading, Miss- - -?’ ‘Oh !it is only a novel!’ replies the young lady’, is perhaps the sort of reaction less often met with today when there is a general decline in reading anyway and intelligent people would prefer to discuss the decline of the novel or whether there is a future for it rather than actually read one. And indeed there must be women of my generation, among whom I could certainly number my old school contemporaries, who may remember that the mother of our headmistress was said never to read a novel in the morning, only biography or memoirs. This certainly stuck in my memory and even to this day I feel slightly guilty about reading a novel in the morning., unless I am still in bed – not having got up  or being ill(obviously some license is permitted here) – or happen to find myself in unusual circumstances, on a journey, say. But of course even here it would be preferable to be reading somebody’s life, though it might be argued that today there is often as much spice in biography as in the novel, truth being that much stranger than fiction. ’Memoirs’ would be best of all to be discovered reading, through I find the form difficult to define in terms of modern literature. There is certainly something attractive in the idea of oneself lying in bed reading memoirs.
  • Yet, curiously enough, there is nothing against writing a novel in the morning; most would say that the morning is the best time for it. But then trying to write a novel counts as work and there is something respectable about work. . .
  • 71 For many years I worked with anthropologists, when I had the job of preparing their researches for publication, and occasionally regretted that more of them didn’t turn their undoubted talents to the writing of fiction. Their work often showed many of the qualities that make a novelist – accurate observation, detachment, even sympathy  - it only needed a little more imagination, plus the leavening of irony and humour to turn  their accounts into novels.
  • Pym quotes in the end Austen’s “only a novel’ and finishes with:
  • Perhaps it is better for the novel writer to 72 forget this for the time being, for such a definition is too discouraging! But if those who boast that they never have time , to read novels, as well as those who, to their shame, do read them, would occasionally remember Jane Austen’s words, they might find themselves not only not  wasting their time but even discovering that ‘ the most thorough knowledge of human nature’ covers a wider filed than they imagined.        


  • Correspondence with publishers and literary agents, 1935-77(163/1, fols. 43-8, 53-127) Some Tame Gazelle, 1935-50
  • (163/1, fols. 128-217) Excellent Women, 1951-60



Shelfmark: MS. Pym 163/1-: a letter from Woman and Beauty


December 7 1949 accepting “Jumble Sale” for publication rejecting “A Few Days before the Winter”(4)


 In her response Pym writes 10th Dec, 1949: “Perhaps I could bring my stories along personally as I should very much like to meet you and see some of the inner working of Woman and Beauty . I have been an enthusiastic reader for a long time. . .”( 5)




Rejection letter from W&B of The Rich Man and His Castle and The Day the Music Came form Anita Christophersen 14th March 1950:p.10


“We like your writing very much and you handle the situations most delicately, but in both cases they are only ‘situations’ – not plots.


When we choose our fiction we are rather thinking about pleasing our readers as well as our selves, and many of them are young romantics, anxious to be caught up in the life of the stories. I think therefore that you are just a shade too objective, too watchful. I hesitate rather in saying this because it would be a pity to alter your style in any way, but could you perhaps strengthen the plots a little, give us something with more movement and action? It might help you too, if you submitted us a synopsis of a story before writing it?”




In her reply dated 15th , March , 1950, p. 11Pym writes:


“I quite appreciate that you must try and give your readers what you think they will like, but it has always seemed to me that Woman and Beauty are of two(at least) different kinds, only , one of which I could hope to attempt myself. The two I sent you are probably not good judged even by their own standards, but I am afraid that all my stories tend to be of the ‘situation’ rather than the ‘movement and action’ type-  it is just the way one sees things, which is very difficult, probably  impossible, to alter very much. If I sent you a synopsis of a plot, it might sound just the kind of thing you would like, but my treatment of it would probably not please you at all.” 




In a letter from 16th December , 1952 (17) D. Wren Howard the director of Jonathan Cape suggests to Pym to “Hulton’s women’s magazine called Housewife”


She reacts on 18th Dec (18) “ I know Housewife well and consider it one of the best of the women’s magazines; indeed I should like to have a story in it if I could write something to suit them”


To her question whether to submit it or Mr. Wren  Howard he answers on 19th  Dec (19) that he would “willingly submit anything you may have to offer to the Fiction Editor on your behalf if you would like me to do so. I am in close touch with him, know something of the kind of thing he is after and also have a good idea of their rates of payment”


I a letter from16th November ,1953 the literary agent Dorothy Daly from Curtis Brown LTD comments about three short stories of Pym (23)


“I am not so optimistic about The Rich Man and His Castle, there is a flavour of class-consciousness that just might disqualify it in these days when the general attitude is ultra-democratic, on the other hand the flavour of the class-consciousness is not so strong as to make me feel the story is entirely unofferable”


p. 34 a list of the stories and history of rejections.




Blurb for EW dating between 17-24 in April, 1951


Excellent Women by Barbara Pym


The story is told by Mildred Lathbury, a clergyman’s daughter  not much over thirty, with no ties of her own and a consequent tendency to get involved in other people’s lives. She lives in a rather dingy part of London, but it has its parochial or village atmosphere, the bachelor vicar and his sister are her friends and she takes an active part in the parish goings-on. The arrival of the Napiers, a married couple of about her own age who take a flat in the same house, is responsible for Mildred’s introduction to a different circle of people and some additional burdens and unforeseen developments in her own life. The development of her personality can be seen in her telling of the story; she may observe the behaviour of anthropologists as keenly as they observe that of ‘primitive communities’ but she cannot always be quite as detached about herself. As to the ‘excellent women’ of the title , it had better left to the reader to decide who they are- Helena Napier, the anthropologist- Esther Clovis, the capable secretary of the Learned Society –Allegra Gray, the attractive widow who comes to live in the parish- Dora Caldicote, Mildred forthright school-friend – Miss Statham, Miss Enders and Sister Blatt, Winifred Malory, the vicar’s sister – the church workers-/ or even Mildred herself. For men characters, some of whom may be almost as excellent in their own way, you have- Julian Malory, the disappointed-in – love vicar – Rockingham Napier, Helena’s charming but idle husband who was so kind to the Wren officers in Italy,-Everard Bone, the serious minded anthropologist- William Caldicote, the civil servant who fuses about food and wine, and Mr. Mallett and Mr. Conybeare, the churchwardens.


If the story strikes the reader as being comic, it is generally because the narrator sees things from a humorous angle, though I hope not in a forced or tiresome way. Some of these small incidents seem to happen so often that there is no need to make them up. Once I was unexpectedly invited for the evening and I was carrying  a biography of Cardinal Newman   in a string bag. (see chapter)”


(145, 146 a revised version of the blurb by the editor  for the spring list 1952


3rd March Jonathan cape writes to BP (155) to announce that EW “appears today”




 a letter from Miss  Tennyson Jesse  (Mrs. H.M. Harwood) dating 6th August, 1952to Mr. Cape regarding EW p. 177


“(. . I speak not only as a writer but as a poor parson’s daughter), Barbara Pym knows her stuff. She doesn’t overdo, as so many people do, the poor pious hens who hang around the Vicarage and try to help “the dear Vicar”. I was brought up in the High Anglican beliefs to which she refers, (though it is obvious that my father got married!). Nevertheless, I have met many men like Julian Malory.. . . The weakness and the strength of that strange conglomerate known as the Church of England shows very clearly in her book, and always without a touch of exaggeration.. . . It is easy enough to write about dull people and make them dull. It is even easy enough to write about exciting people and make them dull. But it is very brilliant indeed to write about what most  people would think were dull people and make them all absorbingly interesting. That is what she has achieved . She has realized that nobody is dull to himself- still less to herself –and yet she never rubs one’s nose in her knowledge. Yes, it is beautifully done 




In London, S.W.1


 Reviews: 214 (no date sometimes in 1952 Daily Telegraph by John Betjeman)


Barbara Pym is a splendid humorous writer. She knows her limits and stays within them. She writes about that world which is much bigger than people suppose of professional men- clergymen, doctors’ widows, the higher but not the top grades of the Civil Service, naval officers and their wives, gentlewomen who are not yet quite distressed.


There are those who may find Excellent Women tame with its fussing over church bazaars “high” and “low” churchmanship, a boiled egg for lunch and a cup of tea before going to bed, but it is a perfect book. The setting is London SW1 neither the smart nor the slummy part of it. The narrator Mildred, is a vicar’s daughter of about 30, not bad looking but very dim, and still unmarried.


We leave the book happily wondering whether Mildred will marry her high church vicar or an inarticulate anthropologist who had asked her to meet his mother. Miss Pym’s chief characters and her lesser ones are all carefully observed and wittily described.  She is not sarcastic but always dry and caustic. Conscious charm by a professional  ladies’ man, quarrelsomeness from  an old school friend, rows about where to put the lilies in the chancel at Easter, are subjects which suit her acid powers of description. ‘Excellent Women’ is England, and thank goodness it is full of them”




Review by J.W. Lambert 216 (no source 1952)


“”A witty , charming and sad little story; the sadness is an aftertaste the wit and charm ever –present pleasures”.     










Extent: 368 leaves




Includes some royalty statements, newspapers cuttings and letters, concerning


  •  (163/2, fols. 218-73) Jane and Prudence, 1953-60
  • (163/2, fols 274-366) Less Than Angels, 1955-77




a letter o Daniel George introducing J&P 18th February 1953: “Naturally it has not turned out quite as I had hoped. I had wanted the contrasting lives of Jane and Prudence, in town and country, to stand out more. As it is they are perhaps just two rather tiresome and unsuccessful women, though there is a hope for them in the end. I hope you will not find chapter twelve too shocking”..




Jane and Prudence


By Barbara Pym


“Jane and Prudence, friends from Oxford days, may be said to represent the married and the unmarried, the country and the town. Two contrasting environments are shown- the country village where Jane’s husband is vicar, and that part of London where Prudence works at her rather indefinite job. Village and office provide a variety of characters. Prudence works for the ineffectual Dr. Grampian and with that irritating pair Miss Trampell and Miss Clothier, while Jane, with her vague and charming husband, becomes involved in the lives of Miss Doggett and her poor relation Jesse Morrow and the affected Fabian Driver, who fancies himself in the role of an inconcosolable widower.


It is Jane who provides the link between the two worlds, both by her friendship with Prudence and by her strong sense of the (tragic comedy of life  erased) ridiculous which helps her to see people with a certain amount of detachment, for neither woman is entirely successful in her life. Prudence romanticizes herself and her love affairs, which do not seem to be very successful ones, while Jane imagines herself an efficient vicar’s wife and the provider of a suitable husband for her friend. But things do not turn out quite in the way she had hoped. Church people  in the country are no easier to deal with than those in the suburbs, and eligible men are not always willing to have their lives arranged for them”


A note from Jonathan Cape dated 7th September,1953. announcing that on that day J&P appeared (p.232)


A letter from the Legal Department of Marks and Spencer 30th October 1953: addressed to Barbara Pym  c/o     Messrs. Jonathan Cape: a comment on p. 125 J&P “ ‘oh yes’ Jane agreed; ‘When we become distressed we shall be glad of an old dress from Marks and Spencer’s as we’ve never been used to anything better!’


Mrs Doggett did not answer, and Jane remembered that of course she went to her dressmaker for fittings and ordered hats from Marshall’s and Debenham’s”


“This reference is clearly derogatory of this company as both in terms and by implication it suggests that dresses sold by the company are of inferior quality, and unfit for wear by persons of the class who buy their hats from marshall’s and Debenham’s


We are proud of the quality of the goods sold by us , and take great exception to this passage in a book which being a Book Society’s recommendation and being written by an author whose work, according to the publishers’ ‘ blurb’ on the dust cover is at times “worthy of Jane Austen” no doubt enjoys a large circulation.


We must, therefore, ask you to inform us at once what steps you propose to take to correct the harm done by the publication of this matter, and to  prevent further publications”.


Wren Howard suggests to Pym not to reply( (236) and after consulting with the company’s solicitors H.F. Rubinstein (237) writes a letter to M&S’s Legal Department dated 5th November, 1953


“”We would point out, however, that, in its context , the allusion in question is not derogatory of goods sold by your Company, of which, if we may say so, you have every reason to be proud. We suggest that if you will reconsider the  passage quoted in your letter, in the light of the general atmosphere and characterization of Miss Pym’s novel, you will appreciate an ironical note underlying the dialogue and the implications of snobbishness betrayed by Miss Doggett, arising precisely out of the fact that the name of your firm is a ‘household word’ for goods remarkable no less for their inexpensiveness than for their high quality. . .


P.S. Since writing  the above, we have received a letter from Miss Barbara Pym, in which she says;-


“I need hardly tell you that I certainly never intended anything derogatory to Marks& Spencer, for whom I have the greatest respect. The ironical things is that I regularly buy and wear their clothes and think them excellent!”




(In the letter to the solicitor 237 Howard phrases this sentiment a little different  “I suggest that it could be argued that the passage is in no way intended to be derogatory of the goods sold by Messrs. Marks & Spencer, which, however, are notoriously inexpensive and that furthermore, the business is now so well-known as to have become a household word”)


In a letter to Mr. Howard dated 10th November, 1963.


Pym writes 243 an alternative version


“”’Oh, yes,’ Jane agreed; ‘when we become distressed we shan’t expect to receive anything very grand, considering the sort of clothes we’re wearing now!’.


(I hope this will do. I shan’t take offense if anyone feels like altering a word or two.)


in hand writing she adds: “If you think that “Marshall’s and Debenham’” should be taken out too, we could substitute ‘expensive shops in London’”


the matter goes on until p248 inc .Howard to Pym: “these tiresome people” 9148 4th November 1953).


27th  March, 1955 introduces Less Than angels to Daniel George 274.


Blurb for Less than Angels 287 from sometimes after 21st of April and the beginning of May




Less than angels by Barbara Pym


A group of anthropologists and a suburban family are brought together through the two heroines of this book – Catherine Oliphant, a writer, and Deidre Swan, a young student living with her mother and aunt in a London suburb. Chief among the anthropologists is Felix Byron Mainwaring, an elderly professor of strong character and idiosyncrasies, but further comedy and even sadness are also provided by Tom Mallow  and his friends, the young anthropologists, whose love affairs and efforts to get money for their researches are the cause of some unexpected happenings. An important part is played by the interfering Miss Clovis and her friend Gertrude Lydgate, whose brother, a retired colonial administrator, is the object of much interest in Deidre Swan’s suburb. Less Than Angels perhaps provides a wider variety of characters than B.P’s other novels, but although the settings may seem to be different there is much that is (?reassuringly![sic]) the same. Catherine Oliphant, who first observes the anthropologists from an upper window when she is having tea, is no less at home in the suburb garden than when she is listening sympathetically to other people’s troubles or coping philosophically with her own. It is surely appropriate that anthropologists, who spend their time studying life and behaviour in various societies, should here be studied in their turn”.   




Correspondence with publishers and literary agents, 1957-73,
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 164
Extent: 242 leaves


Includes some royalty statements and letters, concerning


  • (fols. 1-62) A Glass of Blessings, 1957-62 : In a letter 15th May, 1957 to her publisher Daniel George a day before she sends the book  introducing the book : “I may warn you that the heroine is not very nice  and that the whole book is rather (?(sic) too) churchy!




Pym’s Blurb of GB from 1.6.57p. 12,13


“The narrator of the story, Wilmet Forsyth, a rather selfish and frivolous young woman, is bored with her civil servant husband, and becomes interested in a nearby Anglo-Catholic church, where the three unmarried priests – especially the young and attractive Marius Ransome- and their housekeeper, Mr. Bason, provide her with a good deal of amusement,. She is also intrigued by the elusive and ‘unsatisfactory’ Piers  Longridge, the brother of her best friend Rowena Talbot. A contrast to Wilmet and her easy comfortable life is provided by Mary Beamish, a worthy church-worker with  whose affairs Wilmet becomes involved. Wilmet’s friendship with  Piers seems to be progressing well, but just when she is congratulating herself that they mean more to each other than is perhaps prudent, a totally unexpected rival appears. Wilmet acceptance of this situation and also of the surprising behaviour of Mary beamish and of Wilmet’s mother-in-law, Sybil, provide the climax to the story. In spite of her faults, Wilmet has a sense of humour and is sometimes able to see herself and her surroundings with detachment. The reader may feel that Wilmet is improved by the various vicissitudes she undergoes, and that in the end her life, as well as Mary Beamish’s, may turn out to be A Glass of Blessings”


in response to a letter from 1st July 1957 as to the question of the Law of defamation (15, 16) she answers on 3rd “I can truthfully say that I have been most careful to check as far as possible, I have not used names belonging to real people. I have looked up all the clergy in the latest Crockford and have also consulted the London telephone directory for their names and those of other characters. I have even (today) consulted the directories of London and Oporto to make sure that one character (whose parents were in the wine trade) has no counterpart in reality. I am not sure that I have actually written anything that could be considered as a libel about anybody, even  supposing that the name did have the bad luck to coincide with a real one, but I can assure  that  I have been very careful with the names.


    As to ‘giving offenses’, it is naturally more difficult to be sure about that. My Ms was read by my sister and a critical friend. . . I shall be very careful in going through the proofs, but I cannot at that moment remember anything that might offend anybody. . .I have no wish to get involved in any unpleasantness myself. I haven’t forgotten the worry over Jane and Prudence and my unfortunate reference to Marks and Spencer, so completely innocent on my part”.


Death of Jonathan Cape – as reported to BP by a letter from G. Wren Howard on March 11th 1960.   




(fols. 65-126) No Fond Return of Love, 1959-66 ( which was called first A Thankless Task : a blurb relating to its content from 8th June 1960:


 A Thankless Task




Barbara Pym


“Research into  the lives of other people  can often lead one into complicated situations. Dulcie Mainwaring discovers this when she attends a conference in Derbyshire, where she meets those men and women who do research and make indexes and generally perform the thankless tasks of the literary and academic worlds. Complications are evident too in the life of her suburban neighbours and in the church in North London, which she discovers in the course of the research es. These eventually lead her to a private hotel in the West Country, where her quest seems to be at an end. But her own situation still remains to be resolved and it is not until the last page of the book that she knows what is in store for her.


(The emphasis of the blurb should be on character and dialogue and the undertones of social comedy, which are- we hope-most subtly expressed in B. Pym’s inimitable style!)”  


  • p.78 On 3rd  p.78. August1960 Daniel George ask Pym to change the title as “It is of the kind that is perceived to be exquisitely appropriate once the book has been read but until then, and from a ‘selling’ point of view, is not very enticing”
  • a letter from Jonathan Cape 27th December, 1962 (p.  96) that state that the “sales of STG, EW, J&P, and LTA appear to have practically finished and, as there is considerable pressure on our warehouse space, we consider it necessary to dispose of this existing stocks as remainders”.
  • BP answers  on 2nd January, 1963. in p.95 “I know the sales of my books are very small, but it seems a little drastic to get rid of them all as remainders  - would you consider keeping the few copies of STG and EW (47 in all) and disposing of J&P and LTA. . . (Jonathan Cape agreed in a letter from 5th February 1963 p. 98”



 D    Miscellaneous papers



Card catalogue of Barbara Pym's library, compiled by Hilary Walton, 1981
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 175 = Res.
Extent: 579 leaves
Restrictions on Access: Access closed. Use copy (MS. Pym 175*) for consultation



Photocopy of the above card catalogue (MS. Pym 175)
Shelfmark: MS. Pym 175*
Restrictions on Access: This copy to be used for consultation: Pym had a copy of Ghastly Good Taste by Betjeman no.119 and several others by him,  256 Faber Geoffrey  Faber  Oxford Apostles : A Character study of the oxford movement. Pelican Books (London1954), Watt Margaret : The History of the Parson’s wife : London 1943(548), Woodforde, Ames: The Dairy of a country Parson  1758-1802 :572 . Welch, Denton (a favorite to explore- orna)