Barbara Pym (1913 - 1980) - English, 1931

Famously forgotten and revived in her own lifetime, Pym is a novelist who is constantly being ‘discovered’. Successive generations jealously claim her for their own, delighting in her wise humour and her skewering of all that is quintessentially English. Born in Oswestry she read English at St Hilda's and her diaries (collected and published in A Very Private Eye') provide an entertaining glimpse of Oxford in the early '30s: life, literature, and love. After the outbreak of WWII she joined the WRNS and was posted in Naples. After the war she found employment as an editor at the International African Institute in London, and here she wrote her first novel, Some Tame Gazelle (1950), as well as a number of social comedies including Excellent Women (1952) and A Glass of Blessings (1958). However, between 1966 and 1977 she was unable to secure a publishing deal, with many convinced that her writing was too old-fashioned.

In 1977 she was nominated as the most underrated writer of the century by biographer David Cecil and Philip Larkin, which led to the nomination of her novel Quartet in Autumn for the Booker Prize; she also became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature the same year and all her previous novels were reissued. In all, Barbara published eleven novels, two of which were released posthumously.

The Barbara Pym Society was founded in College in 1994 and continues to hold its Annual Conference here.

Barbara Pym