Crampton Hodnet / Barbara Pym
New York: Plume, 1986, c1985.
As it is the Barbara Pym centenary this year, I'd like to share some thoughts on some of her books, over the course of this year -- especially during the June Barbara Pym readalong that I discovered via Thomas at My Porch.
But I'm starting now with Crampton Hodnet.
I discovered Barbara Pym a while back (mostly due to Kerry Clare's blog Pickle Me This) and have really been enjoying exploring her titles. This book was the funniest one I've read so far -- it's not as leavened with melancholy or bittersweet encounters as her later books seem to be.
Taking place in the 30's, this is set in North Oxford, a community replete with professors, vicars, single women at loose ends, church functions, tea rooms and gossip. This seems to be Pym territory, and in this book it is handled lightly and with a great deal of humour. There is a varied cast of characters -- Miss Dogget and her companion Miss Morrow, who are boarding the new curate Mr Latimer; the Cleveland family, Professor (Francis), Mrs. (Margaret) and daughter Anthea; numerous Oxford students; senior library assistant Edward Killigrew and his aged mother, and many more. The drama involves primarily minor aspects of life, for as Miss Morrow notes, "Clever people were inclined to be fond of spiteful gossip and intrigue."
There is much made of the love lives of all of the interacting characters, married or not. One element has to do with the sudden infatuation that Francis Cleveland has for his student, Barbara Bird. After he has confessed his love to Barbara in the library (with Killigrew lurking in the background ready to pass on the gossip) he returns home:
"Francis, you're looking so odd," said Margaret, glancing up from her novel. "Have you got indigestion?"
"I don't think so," he answered shortly.
"Then it must be the effect of the British Musuem," she said.
That was exactly it, thought Francis, suddenly blaming it all on the British Museum. Everyone knew that libraries had an unnatural atmosphere which made people behave oddly.There are numerous tempests in teapots here, and yet more serious things, like Francis attempting to run off to France with his student, are met with light reproof and the proverbial stiff upper lip by his family. The year has its dramas but as it nears its end, Miss Morrow (whose viewpoint carries much of the book) notes that nothing really changes, that the players who are leaving their circle will be replaced by others much the same, and life will continue along the same path for everyone. Perhaps this isn't such a comforting idea to Miss Morrow herself, but she has made her peace with her position.
The story is full of pretensions and expectations being deflated, comical misunderstandings, disappointed love, and lots and lots of tea and academia. It is charming and entertaining even while skewering its own self-satisfaction with Pym's particular wit. With many amusing and quotable lines, this is one of her novels that I know will be an enjoyable reread in future.