Barbara Pym by Michael Cotsell (auth.)

By Michael Cotsell (auth.)

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Example text

Not at all the same thing as standing at the sink with aching back and hands plunged into the washing-up water. (ch. ' nicely parodies the earnest tutorial question. Great literature does not quite fit the world Belinda lives in: Oswestry and Oxford 23 Yes, one of those with a quotation from Shakespeare or a Great Thought for every day. I always think it's nice to have one in some convenient place so that you can read it at the beginning of the day. And yet the thoughts they choose are often so depressing, aren't they, as if Great Thinkers were never cheerful.

Pym does introduce successful female anthropologistsHelen Napier in Excellent Women and the admirable Esther Clovis - but her central characters, whose points of view she adopts, are not career women. They hold the traditional female occupations, working as librarians, office workers, charity workers and housewives. This is perhaps a limitation in her work, but it is underwritten in Pym by a deep doubt as to the value of the pursuit of a career by either a man or a woman. It is not just that she perceives that a rather pointless activity may sustain an unjustified egoism.

Her feelings of disappointment in love doubtless led her to perceive her relatives and neighbours in a new way. A deepening of the sense of acceptance distinguishes the two versions of the novel. The earlier version has many scenes of conversation and plot relations that are later excised, and the overall tone is more facetious (there is a continuing debt to Huxley). The later version has greater sentiment and focuses more on Belinda's feelings, and her fidelity to the past; it is striking that, in the notebook in which she plotted the revisions, Pym indicated that she had recently been reading Proust's fiction and Chekhov's play The Cherry Orchard.

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