Barbara Pym is a writer I probably would never have run across were it not for some of my friends on LibraryThing. Her books tend to be about English manners and society, peopled with vicars and professors, office workers, housekeepers and ladies’ companions and the occasional “upper class” family. Plots are not high drama, but tend toward the mundane and made into high drama by some of the characters. Her novels are full of subtle wit and irony, done with an intelligence that is not easy to achieve.
Though it was one of her first novels, written in the late 1930s, Crampton Hodnet was published posthumously in 1985. It revolves around the lives of several people in Oxford: Miss Doggett, an elderly spinster of some means, and her paid companion, Miss Morrow; Mr. Latimer, the new curate who comes to lodge with them; Miss Doggett’s nephew Francis Cleveland, an English professor who falls in love with Barbara Bird, a young student; Margaret, his rather oblivious wife; and their daughter Anthea, of a marriageable age.
Comedies of manners, inappropriate invasive behaviors and gossip ensue.
There is nothing very profound in Pym’s novel, but her writing is so clever and laugh-out-loud funny, I have not failed to love any of her books. Some examples:
She shot a glance at Mrs. Killigrew, sitting there so smug and splendid for her age, and there came over her a desire to squash down her stiff straw hat, to tear the bird off it and fling it into the unseasonable fire.and
She stood in the lounge, nervously twisting her hands and looking around her with some agitation. She saw that the room was decorated with stiff palms in brass pots and that, grouped in a corner, as if for artistic effect, were a number of old people reading the newspapers. They looked as if they had been left there many years ago and abandoned. Or perhaps they were people who at some time long past had intended to go abroad and had then either not wanted to or forgotten all about it, so that they had stayed here ever since, like fossils petrified in stone.And what or where or who is Crampton Hodnet? It is a made-up place that becomes a running joke between two of the characters. You’ll need to read the book to discover more.
I raced through this book and now I wish I’d taken a little more time to savor the irony and wit. Fortunately, I have a few more Pyms to look forward to. Highly recommended. (4/5)