Barbara Pym Additional Biography


Barbara Mary Crampton Pym (pihm) was born on June 2, 1913, in the village of Oswestry, Shropshire, England, near the Welsh border. She was the older daughter of Frederick Crampton Pym, a solicitor, and Irena Spencer Pym. Her sister, Hilary, with whom she lived in later life, was born in 1916; the sisters enjoyed a secure and happy childhood. At twelve, Barbara was sent to a boarding school, Liverpool College, Huyton, where she excelled chiefly as chairperson of the Literary Society. In 1931, she went to St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, to study English. After finishing her degree in 1934, she traveled in Europe and worked on her first novel, which was to become Some Tame Gazelle (1950). In 1938, she went to Poland, planning to teach there, but was forced to leave by the outbreak of World War II. During the war, she served in the Royal Navy and was stationed in Italy toward the end of the conflict.

In 1946, Pym went to work for the International Africa Institute in London, where she edited a journal and got to know many anthropologists and linguists. She was not keenly interested in Africa, although she worked for the institute for twenty-eight years. Her paid work enabled her to write novels in her spare time and taught her much about the world of anthropologists, a world that she often depicts in her novels. Also important to her writing were the Anglican churches that she attended and in which she worked during her years in London.

In 1950, the publisher Jonathan Cape...

(The entire section is 614 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Barbara Pym’s twelve novels depict the lives of mid-twentieth century British women in small communities either in London or in the country. In general, the women are underemployed and turn their considerable talents to church and community work. Although most of her women live alone, they lead rich interior lives and maintain a detached view of the lives around them. Pym’s earliest novels, such as Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women are quite amusing, but her vision darkens as her style matures. Quartet in Autumn, a finalist for the Man Booker Prize, is a vision of detachment in a city with little sense of community. A sense of community is always essential to Pym’s worldview.