Editor’s Note: Barbara Pym died on the 11th January 1980.
An afternoon with Miss Pym involved first catching a train to Oxford, transferring there to a line that Dr Beeching forgot, and finally casting vainly around for a taxi in the middle of deep country which conceals the village of Finstock. At the door of the tiny cottage she shared with her sister, Barbara Pym stood clutching a cat and smiled tentatively as yet another journalist disembarked. She was taller than expected: she well nigh filled the door-frame, and loomed pear-shaped ‘Within the tiny rooms. While her visitor fiddled around with his tape recorder, she made tea and conversation before finally settling, faintly uneasily, on a sofa. It is almost cliched to say that she was a figure from English fiction, but in her ladylike way she gathered around her the ghosts of all ladies of slender means and considerable character – the persona was deceptive and briskness, like cheerfulness, kept breaking through. In a novel by Angus Wilson or Muriel Spark, she would have been a character of the greatest fascination.
Admitting their error, Jonathan Cape are reissuing Barbara Pym’s corpus of novels so ingloriously neglected by that firm until the combined elbow-jogging of Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil prompted republication. Among the treasures are No Fond Return of Love. and Jane and Prudence (£4.95 each from Jonathan Cape). The