flowering of critical attention.nSince Pym’s novels never changed their approach orncontent (although Pym did consciously try to choose moren”contemporary” themes), we may be tempted to concludenthat her books were simply out of step with the unrestrainednera of the 1960’s, and the mounting costs of publishing. Yet,nthroughout her writing, while everyone else was dazzled bynTwiggy and the Beatles, Pym captured a different and morenpenetrating picture of her country.nIsa Kapp, in a 1983 essay about Pym in The AmericannScholar, calls Pym’s heroines “dignified anachronisms,” andntitles her essay, “Out of the Swim with Barbara Pym.” ButnPym is not a 19th-century writer who just happens to benwriting in the wrong century. While her most memorablencharacters fuss over altar flowers and entertain curates onnquiet evenings, she also has thoroughly modern heroinesnsuch as a successful free-lance writer and an aging womannwho likes to spend evenings with a gay male friend.nMoreover, Pym’s characters are “out of the swim” notnbecause they ignore the 20th century but because they tendnto hang back, instead of taking action. They are observers,ninterpreters (though less than fully articulate) of what goesnon around them. Excessively cerebral, they ponder andnworry a lot. They don’t talk much about the decline of thenEnglish economy, but they see it, feel it, and resignnthemselves to it. (In the same way, they muddle through thensexual revolution.) Through their maunderings, Pym revealsnnot only the amusing and sometimes heartrendingnfoibles of human beings but also the extent and depth of then”British disease.”nFew of Pym’s heroines dress well, for example. They shopnat jumble sales and are often, like Emma Howick of A FewnGreen Leaves, “the type that the women’s magazines usednto make a feature of ‘improving.'” The London flat ofnanother heroine is furnished “in a way that is sometimesndescribed as ‘bohemian’ but which is just as often the resultnof not being able to buy quite enough furniture andncarpets.”nHardly anyone eats well. In the early novels, set during ornjust after the war, the plain repasts (“cold meat with beetrootnand no potatoes”) make sense. But by the late 1970’s,npeople are still eating “macaroni au gratin with chips” andn”baked beans on toast with a poached egg on top.”nThese descriptions are not inadvertent or inevitable. Innreal life, Pym liked nice clothes and enjoyed good food.n”After dinner I changed out of my chiffon into my scarletnsatin blouse and black skirt,” she notes in her diary duringnher Oxford days. Her dinners ran more to “fish, duck andngreen peas, peaches and cream, sherry, Niersteiner andnport” than to baked beans. But her novels are full of genteelnpoverty and accommodation to limited resources.nThe dwindling of hope and expectation on a nationalnscale corresponded with Pym’s own experience, as we havenseen, and with her psychological affinities as a novelist. InnSome Tame Gazelle, though written in her 20’s when shenwas still ebullient and full of hope, Pym captures the innerncore of her first romance and gives it a dominant role. Thencomedy that she builds on this foundation is a testimony tonher capacity for unsentimental observation.nIn Gazelle, it is many years later, and the enthusiasticnlovestruck girl has become Belinda Bede, an aging spinsternwho harbors a decades-long unrequited affection for ArchdeaconnHenry Hoccleve, a pompous lightweight longnmarried to someone else. We learn how, over the years,nBelinda’s passion “had mellowed into a comfortable feeling,nmore like the cosiness of a winter evening by the fire thannthe uncertain rapture of a spring morning.”nQuartet in Autumn (1977) brings together her personalnexperience and her understanding of the surrounding socialnconditions more vividly than any other. Written after Pymnhad given up hope that any of her new novels would ever benpublished, it also incorporates her experience of havingncancer surgery. At the same time, the book draws a directnlink between the stifling of economic opportunity and thencrushing of human vitality.nIn a society characterized by slow growth^ the oldnhierarchies are the only hierarchies, and those who £ndna place there are the “old boys,” often regardless ofnmerit.nQuartet explores the effect of death and impending deathnon people who have little to look back on and nothing tonlook forward to. Four elderly people — Marcia, Letty,nEdwin, and Norman—inhabit a world of unarticulated andnbarely felt emotions, share the thinnest of conversations, andntake part in the dullest of routines. The interplay of theirnfeelings is so subfle that the novel is difficult to synopsize —nas its title suggests, it is more like music than a story.nThese four work in an office together, but the readernnever finds out just what they do. “The activities of theirndepartment seemed to be shrouded in mystery — somethingnto do with records or filing, it was thought, nobody knew forncertain. . . . The most significant thing about it was thatnnobody was replacing them, indeed the whole departmentnwas being phased out and only being kept on until the mennworking in it reach retirement age.” (What more tellingnsymbol of a once-vigorous nation on the wane?)nThe four are not really friends, just office mates, but theynare almost the only acquaintances each one has. When antenuous relationship with her office acquaintances endsnthrough retirement, Marcia becomes increasingly alienatednand odd, rarely venturing from home, obsessively accumulatingnglass milk bottles and plastic bags.nJust as the unnamed office work is a poinfless ritual thatnaccomplishes nothing, the safety net of the social welfarenstate proves completely ineffective. It is not long beforenMarcia is found unconscious in her kitchen and dies soonnafter. Janice Brabner, representative of the welfare state — an”voluntary” social worker who talks about her visitations tonthe elderly as a “job”—worries over this event. Janice hadntried to communicate with Marcia, but failed. And while shentells herself that Marcia’s collapse “in no way reflected onnthe social services,” she concedes to herself that “therenmight possibly have been a lack of liaison, that Miss Ivorynmight be said to have fallen through the net, that dreadednphrase. …”nMarcia’s death gives her previously insignificant life antangible impact. For Marcia owned property—a house.nThrough the disposition of that property, she changes thennnJULY 19881 19n