41: Barbara Pym and Other Excellent Women

A latter-day Austen, an academic, a romantic, a comic, a caustic chronicler of the commonplace . . . The novelist Barbara Pym became beloved and Booker Prize-nominated in the late twentieth century, yet many rejections, years in the literary wilderness and manuscripts stored in linen cupboards preceded her revival.

Paula Byrne, author of The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym, and Lucy Scholes, critic, Paris Review columnist and editor at McNally Editions, join the Slightly Foxed team to plumb the depths and scale the peaks of Barbara Pym’s writing, life and loves. From Nazi Germany to the African Institute; from London’s bedsit land to parish halls; from unrequited love affairs with unsuitable men to an epistolary friendship with Philip Larkin; and from rejection by Jonathan Cape to overnight success via the TLS, we trace Pym’s life through her novels, visiting the Bodleian and Boots lending libraries along the way. There’s joy in Some Tame Gazelle, loneliness in Quartet in Autumn, and humour and all human experience in between, with excellent women consistently her theme.

We then turn from Pym to other writers under or above the radar, finding darkness in Elizabeth Taylor, tragicomedy in Margaret Kennedy and real and surreal rackety lives in Barbara Comyns. To round out a cast of excellent women, we discover Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca was foretold in Elizabeth von Arnim’s Vera, and we recommend an eccentric trip with Jane Bowles and her Two Serious Ladies, as well as theatrical tales from a raconteur in Eileen Atkins’s memoir.  (Episode duration: 57 minutes; 16 seconds)

Books Mentioned
We may be able to get hold of second-hand copies of the out-of-print titles listed below. Please get in touch with Jess in the Slightly Foxed office for more information.

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Opening music: Preludio from Violin Partita No.3 in E Major by Bach

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