'Thankless tasks': academics and librarians in the novels of Barbara Pym

Elizabeth S. van Aswegen

Abstract


From 1950, until her death in 1980, Barbara Pym published ten novels. However, the social and literary climate of the 'sixties and early 'seventies was not receptive to her subtle and ironic literary style, and her writing suffered an eclipse of 16 years. A renaissance in her fortunes came in January 1977, when the Times literary supplement asked a selection of critics to comment on which writers they considered the most underrated of the twentieth century; both Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil selected Barbara Pym. This critical acclaim stimulated renewed interest in her work, and Quartet in ali/limn was nominated and shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1977. Her new status led to her canonization in the literary world, and several previously unpublished novels, as well as her edited diaries and notebooks, appeared after her death in 1980. An analysis of character in the novels reveals that Pym's peripheral characters include a large cast of academics; in addition, some of her most malicious creations are librarians, who, with their petty concerns, are averse to both books and borrowers. This article highlights her countless subtle jibes at academe; while her characters are frequently intrinsic to theme and plot (the adjective 'peripheral' is therefore to be used with caution), her most caustic scenes deflate academic ambition and pretension. The role of capable women as adoring amanuenses to complacent male academics is also discussed briefly.

Vanaf 1950, tot haar dood in 1980, het Barbara Pym tien romans gepubliseer. Die maatskaplike en literere klimaat van die jare sestig en vroee sewentig was egter nie ontvanklik vir haar subtiele en ironiese literere styl nie, en vir 16 jaar het geen werk deur haar verskyn nie. 'n Herlewing het egter in Januarie 1977 gekom toe die Times literary supplement kritici genader het om kommentaar te lewer oor wie hulle as die mees onderskatte skrywers van die 20ste eeu beskou; beide Philip Larkin en Lord David Cecil het Barbara Pym gekies. Hierdie kritiese lof het nuwe belangstelling in haar werk tot gevolg gehad, en Quartet in autumn is genomineer en op die kortlys vir die 1977 Booker-prys geplaas. Haar nuwe status het gelei tot erkenning in die letterkundige wereld, en verskeie ongepubliseerde romans, sowel as haar geredigeerde dagboeke en aantekeningboeke, het na haar dood in 1980 verskyn. 'n Analise van karakter in die romans toon dat Pym se randkarakters 'n groot aantal akademici insluit; verder is van haar bitsigste skeppings bibliotekarisse, wat met hulle klcinlike belangstellings, beide boeke en gebruikers verafsku. Hierdie artikelle klem op haar talle voorbeelde van subtiele spottery met die akademiese wereld; terwyl haar karakters dikwels noodsaaklik tot die tema en verhaal is (die term 'randkarakters' moet dus versigtig gebruik word), word haar vernynigste tonele gebruik om akademiese ambisie en pretensie te verkleineer. Die rol van bekwame vroue as aanbiddende handlangers van selfvoldane manlike akademici word ook kort\iks bespreek.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7553/66-1-1452

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