The Blurb for Some Tame Gazelle May 1st, 1950
“ ‘ the strange, inexplicable essence’ of human nature in a sequestered English village. ‘Miss Pym’ says Robert Liddel in Now and Then ‘is that rare and precious creature, a really original comic.’
Mary Sullivan Sunday Telegraph 9 July 1978
Barbara Pym’s novels enjoyed a quiet but solid reputation during the 1950s.
Oxford Mail Thursday July 6, 1978 Miss Pym wields a fine brush so skillfully,
Miss Pym is a water – colourist adding depth with innumerable pale washes, not an inch thick wedge with a palette knife, and using this technique manipulates the reader’s feelings off or adding one layer can reveal a quite unexpected and unpleasant slant of a previously amicable person.
The Bookman April 1952 Veronica Wedgwood
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
What Excellent Women they are, all those helpful, unmarried ladies who rally round at the jumble sale and the vicarage fête, Barbara Pym has matured her style as an intelligent and kindly observer of the social comedy. Her scene is a parish—a London parish, not a country one. There are plenty of Excellent Women in London parishes, but they lead their blameless lives in terraced streets of houses converted into flats, . . . who do not go to Church and may even get into the divorce court.
Parish life with its solidarity and simplicity bobs along on the tide of London, and an excellent woman like Mildred Lathbury may have one foot in the vicarage and the other in the complicated private affairs of her neighbours.
From a poll of 43 intellectual luminaries incidentally the most overrated writers are Arnold Tonybee and E. m. Forster closely followed by Andre Marlraux, Freud and Virginia Woolf. “How the mighty fallen according to the critics”
TLS January 21, 1977 (p. 67)
Lord David Cecil :
Underrated: Barbara Pym, whose unpretentious, subtle, accomplished novels, especially Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings, are for me the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the past seventy five years.
Underrated: the six novels of Barbara Pym published between 1950 and 1961 which give an unrivaled picture of a small section of middle class post-war England . She has a unique eye and ear for the small poignancies and comedies of everyday life.
New Society(No. 23) 7 March 1963 Ronald Frankenberg ( a sociologist from Manchester University) Participant Observer
Among methods used by anthropologists and sociologists a controversial one is that in which the social scientist tries to immerse himself in a particular group or society in order to report it from the inside. Despite its pitfalls, the method has a great deal to contribute.
(An example of the anthropologists in Excellent Women) “The participant- observer deliberately submits himself to this, not usually in a group but alone.
Now and Then Spring 1952
Excellent Women reviewed by William Plomer p. 14
An excellent woman is, generally speaking, one who has reconciled herself to the unmarried state; is a trustworthy, decent, amiable and reliable as she has been brought up to be; and accordingly finds her unselfishness and unattachedness being taken advantage of by others, who do not always have the grace to say, ‘ I don’t know what I’d do without you.’ If Mildred were only excellent to that extent, she might not be especially interesting; but she has the special excellence of alert sense of comedy, and misses nothing of the ‘little frictions’ in her own and other people’s lives, or of their consequences.
Mildred’s excellence is her unpretentiousness. She never pretends to be more sophisticated, more important, more worldly-wise than she is. While she gives her energies so freely to the promotion of her friends’ physical or moral well-being, never for one instant do her clear eyes and mind cease to focus upon their behaviour – however absurd capricious, shallow, or egotistic that behaviour may be, she never allows her view of it to be clouded by anything like moral indignation or an air of superiority. If in her the normal expectancy of the female has been over laid by the thoughtful generosity of the ‘excellent woman,’ she has not lost her humanity.
It would be wrong to give away the ‘little fricions’ and their consequences which are somewhat the making of the book, but the characterization has the neatness and felicity of the nomenclature what living novelists could better Olive Sturgis Ridout as the name of the headmistress of a girls’ school?
TLS 28th march 1952 (p.2)
Miss Pym wears her realism without much self-consciousness, the narrator is Mildred Lathbury, a young spinster of means who works for distressed gentlewomen. Her amused detachment is continually being broken down by the minor emotional storms of her friends and acquaintances.
Time and Tide 26 Apr 1952
‘Excellent Women, whom one respected and esteems.’ What a depressing suggestion of sultry worthiness theses words of praise convey! But the women in this book are not in the least dull.
Daily Telegraph 14/3/52 John Betjeman
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 for me it is a perfect book. . .
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.
Jane and Prudence
Sunday Times 13th September J. W. Lambert
J&P Contrasts two friends
One has dwindled into a wife of sorts, though as the alternative was apparently only the lifelong construction of commentaries upon seventeenth century poets, perhaps she has not missed much; the other has lived in London and has drifted into the guilty fastidiousness of those who are both serious-minded and self indulgent.
Church Times 23 Oct 1953
New Fiction Mixed Bag
Miss Pym writes with a shrewd and pleasant wit – Jane Austen in a minor key. Her new novel will delight many a parson and his family, with its gently ridiculous descriptions of life in a country vicarage, the troubles of PCC’s, and the reactions of parishioners to a vicar’s wife who is a little unconventional, and who has too much integrity and intelligence always to make the ‘right’ remark or to fall obediently into the stereotyped pattern expected of her.
Wolverhampton Express 31 October 1955 (Staff)
In a quiet way I am becoming something of a Barbara Pym fan. I say ‘in a quiet way’ because quietness is the essence of Miss Pym’s work itself. –She deliberately restricts herself to a small canvas and then, just as deliberately, eschews any violent overtones of colour in painting her picture.
New Chronicle 3 November 1955 With Rod and Gun in Far Suburbia: New Novels
by David Holloway
Miss BP has a very keen eye for noting the tribal customs of the English middle class and a great ability for reporting them in a cool detached way. It is only right that so exact an observer of a small section of humanity should choose to concentrate in this book on those who spend their lives studying humanity as a whole the anthropologists. Among the best bits of the book are the descriptions of suburban life somewhere on the Thames (I would guess between Putney and Mort lake) where Anglo-Catholicism is all the rage. They make perfect counter poise to the accounts of academia receptions and professional dinner parties where the students hoping for grants are made to feel wonderfully ill at ease.
Miss Pym is most cruel to her women. The men she is willing to let off with a caution as poor silly things who cannot help themselves. Every now and again I did wish she could have shown a little mercy to just one of her characters.
The enjoyment of this book will depend on whether you relish seeing your neighbours roasting on a spit over a slow fire. I do and consequently enjoyed it very much.
Barnes talk Monday before February 10, 1956 was given at the central library in Barnes Readers’ Circle.
Now and Then Spring 1956 LTA reviewed by Lady Cynthia Asquith
The circles of young students in shabby tweed jackets and grey flannel trousers lacks any real conviction of the importance of anthropology. (In contrast to the old generation according to Asquith).
(Out of 11 newspapers articles that critiqued GB only one –Daily Telegraph refers to homosexuals. Oswestry and Border Cronicle? Advatize calls piers a “selfish young man”)
Now and Then Spring 1958 Austin Lee
Although set in the present- day London, it is remote from the too urgent problems of our time and the world of the Angry Young Men but it is part of its charm.
And yet I couldn’t make up my mind whether the author – not Wilmet Forsyth the narrator – was viewing the church and clergy satirically or not. I think she is, and indeed I hope so, for they are all of them, even Fr. Bode who is the most kindly treated, ineffectual and rather trivial, I can quite see that a Fr. Huddleston, say, would destroy the artistic unity of the book, but it is odd that all the men connected with the church are eccentric.
Daily Telegraph 16 May 1958 by Peter Green
Her naïve heroine all unaware, falls in love with an obvious homosexual (although this is never explicitly stated) and the queer goings-on of housekeeper and so on are described with catty accuracy.
News Chronicle (Summer 1958) by Bridget Brophy Eccentric
GB is a curious? An eccentric light novel.
It is told in the first person feminine by Wilmet, pretty boreds rich and preoccupied with Anglo-Catholicism with none of the religious person’s intense fantasy. Wilmet simply has a foible for ‘fathers’ and incense
Housewife June 1958 Margery Fisher
This witty devastatingly observant author finds high-church a fruitful source of material. Her heroine, pretty Wilmet, tells the story with deprecating side glance at her own rather worldly reactions to good-works.
Evening Standard 7/2/ 61
A Quick Look Around
Suburban life under the microscope, with the minutia sharply focused and detached with affection: gentle dowdy young woman, retired domestic help, handsome vicar etc, unrevolutionary, but well done.
The Sunday Times
By Hilary Seton
NFRL by BP a social comedy on people on the edge of life, refined to emotional anemia, intellectual pretensions and loneliness as youthful hopes collapse — Miss Pym draws her group of characters with customary acuteness, honesty and surface humour—talk about the smile on the face of the tiger.
The Tatler 15/2/61
Siriol Hugh—Jones on Books
Miss Pym’s characters are mad eccentrics under the skin and behave wildly and unpredictably, though the tone is so level and decorous. Even a suburban dinner party ripples and sparkles with the oddities and banked? passions building politely under the surface.
I love and admire Miss Pym’s pussycat wit and profoundly unsoppy kindness, and we may leave the deeply peculiars, face—saving, gently tormented English middle classes safely in her hands.
Church Times 17/2/61
(anon) Recent Fiction Sensitivity without Sentimentality
Barbara Pym’s novels are not everyone’s cup of tea. She pitches her narrative in a deliberately minor key, and occupies herself chiefly with the cool detached observation of undistinguished men and women putting their motives and their foibles under the microscope of her exact inquision.
Student of the niceties of middle-class social quirks and mannerism will derive quiet pleasure from Miss Pym’s delicate and almost feline appreciation of her chosen métier. She has a sense of humour and fun, never too obvious which compensate for the dreariness and futility of most of her characters. And her writing has style, something rare enough in contemporary novels to make the reader truly thankful for at least one small mercy.