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Barbara Pym

Barbara Mary Crampton Pym was born in Oswestry, Shropshire in 1913. After studying English at Oxford, she served in the WRNS during World War II. Her literary career is noteworthy because of the long hiatus between 1963 and 1977, when, despite early success and continuing popularity, she was unable to find a publisher for her richly comic novels.

The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most underrated writer of the century. Her comeback novel, Quartet in Autumn, was nominated for the Booker Prize. She died of cancer in 1980.

Her novels include:

Several strong themes link the works in the Pym "canon", which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, with excessive significance being attached to social activities connected with the church. However, the dialogue is often deeply ironic, and a tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died.

The Barbara Pym Society is based at St Hilda's College, Oxford, UK.