A Very Private Eye Critical Context - Essay

Barbara Pym

Critical Context

Upon its publication in 1984, A Very Private Eye received reviews in at least eleven major American periodicals, ranging from The Wall Street Journal to The New Republic. A thesis running through most of these reviews is that this book accomplishes the primary biographical function of elucidating some relationships between fact and fiction. Readers of this book who have previously read Pym’s novels can benefit from discovering the reasons behind her taking certain positions or expressing certain attitudes. There is the equal reward of getting her view of the real persons behind some of her fictional characters. Other readers of this book may well be led by Pym’s strong, honest, open personality to want to discover her novelistic creations.

In addition to being placed within the context of the fiction, this book can be examined in its relationship with the more usual way of publishing an author’s diaries and letters, that is, as separate volumes that do not purport to be autobiographies. Pym clearly meant to say what she says in all this material, and she clearly hoped that much of it would be published; the form it might take was not of her choosing, but she and her words are well served by this form of publication. Although this book does serve well as an autobiography, the reader should not take it as replacing a full biography, with interpretation of Pym by some writer other than Pym.