18 / CHRONICLESnBARBARA PYM’S UNSENTIMENTAL EYEnby fane S. ShawnAdmirers of Barbara Pym have several regrets. Thengreatest is that there aren’t more of her novels. Pymnwould undoubtedly have written more had she lived longer,nfor her death in 1980 occurred at a time of renewednproductivity. She certainly would have written more had shennot suffered 14 years of publishers’ rejections.nPym’s novels have a flavor all their own. “It is nownpossible to describe a place, a situation or a person as VerynBarbara Pym,'” writes editor Hazel Holt in the preface tonPym’s letters and diaries. The initially striking thing aboutnthe novels is their quaint, “dated” quality. Set in and aroundnLondon in the decades after the Second World War, theynare filled with churchgoing spinsters, dowdy clergymen’snwives, and busy “excellent women” (a phrase she used as antitle); Pym writes about less-than-glamorous, often charminglynbefuddled people.nThough most are light and satirical, the novels all have annunderlying sense of resignation and defeat. Even with hernfirst published and most cheerful novel. Some Tame Gazelle,na sense of cramped lives and forgone opportunities underliesnthe comedy. And the feeling only grows as we read the laternworks. Although there is little desperation or longingnJane S. Shaw is a senior associate of the PoliticalnEconomy Research Center, Bozeman, Montana.nnnexpressed in the novels, her protagonists convey an incompletenessnand a partial failure that gives them a specialnappeal.nIt is possible to trace in Pym’s diaries and letters andarkening spirit as the uninhibited, lovelorn (and continuallyndisappointed) Oxford student turns into a woman whonbegins to realize that she may never marry. She passionatelynfalls into love again and again, always to be rejected, andnnever to forget those old flames. In 1943, at age 29, shenwrites to her first love (long married to someone else) thatnyesterday was the 10th anniversary of the first evening theynspent together. “Yes, it was in 1933 and we went to thenTrout and played pingpong and ate mixed grill and thenwistaria was out.” A decade later, she writes in her diary:n”To receive a love letter and to be eating honey on a Junenmorning (in a bed-sitting room in London). This was inn1939—me in Upper Berkeley Street. The letter was fromnJay and the honey from Jock (Miel d’Hymette) fromnAthens.” Such memories and reflections dot the diaries.nTwo events are equal in power to this continual disappointmentnin love: her publisher’s sudden refusal in 1963 tonpublish any more of her novels and her surgery for cancer inn1971. Both clearly affect the tone and content of the novels.nBut equally impressive is how her novels reveal the largernworld around her and specifically the declining economicnand social conditions in Britain. Though decidedlynnonpolitical—they do not attack Britain’s welfare state orneven address it, they do not extol private property or evenndiscuss it as such, and Pym does not blame her heroines’ntroubles on economic forces — Pym’s writing faithfullyndepicts a decline of a world larger than the self. Yet, in herndiaries, Pym even chides herself for ignoring world events:n”It occurred to me that were I to look in this volume in threenyears time what dreariness I should find. One would hardlynknow that there was a war on at all, and certainly not havenany idea that I was an intelligent and presumably thinkingnperson. Or perhaps I do think a little, but not about anythingnthat really matters to anyone except myself.” Actually, herncomedies convey, more effectively than economic treatises,nBritain’s poverty of physical goods and—far more important—itsnpoverty of vitality and hope.nPym published six novels between 1950 and 1961. Then,nin 1963, her publisher, the British firm Jonathan Cape,nrefused to publish the next one. She revised it, to no avail,nand wrote another, which she eventually sent to 21 publishers.nAll declined, and the literary world simply forgotnBarbara Pym. At one low point, Pym wrote, “Now I just jotnthings down in my notebooks, lacking the courage to startnanything again though I suppose I will one day.”nIn 1977, an article in the Times Literary Supplementnreported that two prominent literary figures—Philip Larkinnand Lord David Cecil—had cited Pym as one of the mostnunderrated writers of the 20th century. That articlenlaunched a reappraisal of her work. Today, she is widelynlauded, treated as a serious writer, and often compared withnJane Austen. All 12 of her novels, plus selections from herndiaries and letters, have been published. Unfortunately,nPym’s death occurred before she could experience the fulln