Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:
Something to love, oh, something to love.
~Thomas Haynes Bayly
Ah, something to love. That is indeed a major focus in Barbara Pym’s delightful novel, Some Tame Gazelle, in which we find a small clutch of English matrons looking for someone on whom to bestow their ardor. For Harriet Bede, it’s the village curate of the day, the hapless young man who has been assigned to their parish and by default becomes the objet du jour of Harriet’s affection. In today’s parlance, she would be called a cougar for the merciless way she flirts with the young men. But in the confines of the 1950’s when this novel is set, there’s something rather sweet about it- even though Harriet keeps refusing the marriage proposals of the ever so proper Count Bianco, who would be a perfect match.
And then there is Harriet’s sister, Belinda, who reminds me of a tame gazelle, all gentleness and shyness, trying so hard to please. Alas, Belinda was not fleet enough to snare the love of her life, the imperious Archdeacon, whom she has loved since the days of her youth but whose affections were given elsewhere. And now she follows him around the parish like a sad puppy, hoping for a crumb of attention here and there.
Barbara Pym (1913-1980) was a very young woman when she wrote this (it was the first of her novels to be published , in 1950 but was written years before), and I’m amazed at how well she captures the poignancy of middle age spinsterhood at her young age. She later said the novel “proved therapeutic, and helped her release some feelings she had been having difficulty with at the time.” One can only imagine what those might have been.
Pym’s novels all extol the virtues of life in the English countryside, and she has been compared to a modern day Jane Austen with her keen eye to manners and relationships. If you love Austen, you will enjoy Pym. She examined relationships -especially unrequited love – with an amusing and loving eye. Her work is laced with a deliciously ironic sense of humor, and I alternately laugh and cry about her characters the quietly absurd situations in which they find themselves.
2013 is Pym’s centenary, and apparently LibraryThing is hosting a year long reading event to coincide. I first read about it at Ali’s blog so decided to join in. I’ve had several of Pym’s books on my shelves since the early 1990’s when a friend introduced me to her. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to re-read my favorites and introduce myself to the rest. I also hope to read a bit more about Pym herself.
Here is the reading list if you’re interested in joining in this event:
• January 2013 Some Tame Gazelle (1950)
• February 2013 Excellent Women (1952)
• March 2013 Jane and Prudence (1953)
• April 2013Less than Angels (1955)
• May 2013 A Glass of Blessings (1958)
• June 2013 No Fond Return of Love (1961)
• June 2013Quartet in Autumn (1977)
• July 2013The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
• August 2013 A Few Green Leaves (1980)
• September 2013Crampton Hodnet (completed circa 1940, published 1985)
• October 2013 An Unsuitable Attachment (written 1963; published posthumously, 1982)
• November 2013 An Academic Question (written 1970-72; published 1986)
• December 2013 Civil to Strangers (written 1936; published posthumously, 1989)