cover image The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym: A Biography

The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym: A Biography

Paula Byrne. William Collins, $34.99 (704p) ISBN 978-0-00-832220-5

Byrne (Kick: The True Story of JFK’s Sister and the Heir to Chatsworth) captures in this insightful biography the life of British author Barbara Pym (1913–1980), drawing extensively on Pym’s correspondence, diaries, and notebooks to illustrate how her novels reflected the social and political changes of her era. Byrne vividly recounts Pym’s childhood in rural Shropshire, her transformative years at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, in the 1930s, where there were strict rules governing women’s behavior, and WWII, when she “flirted with Nazism.” In the 1950s, Pym published her first novels to excellent reviews, but in the ’60s she was dropped by her publisher out of fear her “novels of quiet female independence” were becoming too old-fashioned. Pym’s literary reputation was resurrected in the late ’70s when she published what Byrne calls “her true masterpiece”: The Sweet Dove Died. Byrne does a great job probing Pym’s relationships, especially her friendship with Oxford classmate and lifelong correspondent Robert Liddell, who “cajoled, nagged and encouraged, and... persisted in believing in Pym’s potential as a published writer.” This attentive, lively biography casts a well-deserved spotlight on a writer whose “reputation is secure, but only among a minority of readers.” (June)