This is going to sound a little silly, but reading really good books like Barbara Pym's Crampton Hodnet make me feel all warm and fuzzy. It's the sort of story she writes (and I can rattle off a list of other authors who would more or less fit the same description) and the way she writes. I can call her charming and delightful and she is that, but let me add, too, that her prose is crisp and smart and she's funny. I mean really funny. Not necessarily the laugh out loud type but the kind that is witty and amusing and will elicit from me a string of guffaws and bring out a silly smile on my face. And keep in mind that Crampton Hodnet was her first novel, though published last after her death. So this is only an apprentice novel and not even her best work.
I've just passed the midway mark in the novel and am torn betwen wanting to gulp the rest down and wanting to continue at my leisurely pace and simply enjoy the story and writing (I'll likely do the latter). But I did want to share something about it sooner than later in honor of the Barbara Pym Reading Week that's going on right now. I'll write about the book properly later, but I wanted to share a few great passages.
I don't know much about Barbara Pym, though I'll be rectifying that in time. She is one of those rediscovered authors that I admire so much (like Elizabeth Taylor and Dawn Powell). Pym's renaissance is owed to Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil who named her one of the "most underrated writers of the century" in the TLS. I can thank my TLS subscription for access to their online archives where I read a glowing review of her novel Jane and Prudence (also in my small but growing Pym collection). The reviewer noted the the reissue of Jane and Prudence was being reprinted as a Virago Modern Classic.
"The accolade 'classic' is appropriate because, although Pym’s novels record the manners of a segment of society in a period of post-war England, her wit and humanity are timeless."
There are so many great lines and scenes in this novel, it's hard to choose only one or two. Hopefully they won't lose anything in pulling them from the narrative. The story is filled with her typical vicars, spinsters, academics, a pair of young lovers and dewy-eyed students. A 'not young though not old' curate has come to North Oxford sending titters through the little community as he is intelligent and handsome. But he's also practical. He is living with one of the local spinsters and her companion. It's Miss Morrow, the companion, on whom he has set his sights. He thinks he should marry, and certainly he could do much worse . . .
"A glass of sherry would not do much for him, but Mr. Latimer felt encouraged. 'How well you understand me,' hs said. 'You must feel it too, the gloom here, the sense of being imprisoned . . . ' He fluttered his hands in hopeless, birdlike gestures."
"'Of course I have,' said Miss Morrow briskly. 'I warned you about it wen you came. It's different for me, I'm paid a paid companion and as such I expect gloom, it's my portion. But on the whole I'm lucky and I really enjoy life'."
"'You enjoy life?' asked Mr. Latimer, as if this were something new to him."
"'Yes, of course I do. And you ought to even more because you're young'."
"'But I'm not,' said Mr. Latimer. 'We're neither of us young, if it comes to that. But we aren't old yet'." His voice took on a more hopeful note. 'Oh, Miss Morrow--Janie,' he burst out suddenly."
"'My name isn't Janie'."
"'Well, it's something beginning with J,' he said impatiently. It was annoying to be held up by such a triviality. What did it matter what her name was at this moment'?"
I'll leave out the rest of the conversation, but I think you won't be surprised by Miss Morrow's tone that she turns him down.
"Well, thought Miss Morrow, looking down at her new green dress, so it had been an occasion after all/ A man had asked her to marry him and she had refused. But did a trapped curate count as a man? It had been such a very half-hearted proposal . . . poor Mr. Latimer! She smiled as she remembered it. 'I respect and esteem you very much . . . I think we might be very happy together . . . ' MIght. Oh, no, it wouldn't do at all! Even Miss Morrow's standards were higher than that, so high indeed that she feared she would never marry now."
No worries I've not shared all the good bits, so there will be lots to amuse you still should you pick up the book. She began writing it in 1939 but it was not published until 1985. I'm thoroughly enjoying reading Crampton Hodnet (Crampton by the way is meant to be the name of a village but is actually taken from Pym's family name). I read Excellent Women years ago and am not sure why I waited so long to pick up another of her books (I liked her so much the first time out that I proceeded to buy as many novels as I could find by her, however). Now I think I'll try and make my way through all of her works!