Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

British novelist Barbara Pym began keeping a diary while a student at the University of Oxford in the 1930’s. Using excerpts from these diaries, from her later, less formal notebooks, and from some of her letters, Pym’s younger sister Hilary and her friend and literary executor Hazel Holt have put together a different kind of autobiography. Pym tells her own story in her own words, but the two editors have also written small amounts of introductory and explanatory material to fill in the gaps with facts, ideas, and feelings that were not recorded originally to serve such a direct and organized autobiographical function. Yet the author regularly shows that she expected her diaries and notebooks to be published.

Holt’s three-page preface sets forth her personal and professional relationship with Pym, which included twenty-five years together as editors and writers for the International African Institute in London. Hilary Pym, in five pages, provides background details of the Pym family and briefly sketches the childhood of the sisters in Oswestry, Shropshire.

The body of the book is divided into three main parts. Part 1, “Oxford,” covers the 1932-1939 period, when Pym was studying English literature. She remained in Oxford, at least part-time, after completing her degree. During that period she began work on her first novel, which was not actually completed until 1950, when it was published under the title Some Tame Gazelle. Part 2 covers the years of World War II; during that time, Pym joined and ultimately became an officer in the Women’s Royal Naval...

(The entire section is 653 words.)