Image Credit: Fast-Living Frump

Fast-Living Frump

"Be more wicked, if necessary," Barbara Pym's agent once suggested.

Barbara Pym: A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters; Edited by Hazel Holt and Hilary Pym; E. P. Dutton; New York; $19.95.

"Be more wicked, if necessary," Barbara Pym's agent once suggested as she revised her early novels and prepared to make her first wild dash through the gauntlet of London publishers. "Can you imagine an old spinster," she responded (she was fast upon the venerable age of 36), "frowning anxiously over her MS. trying to be more wicked?" Mischievous, in her most spiteful moments perhaps she could be. Sarcastic? Maybe. But wicked, in the Mary McCarthy sense of the word? Never. The self-styled frump of modern letters and the nicest of British novelists, Pym was a committed traditionalist who dug in the heels of her sensible pumps to create a world of kindly curates and church bazaars several hedgerows off the thoroughfare of the beaten literary path. As one of the best modern-day comediennes of manners, hers was an art of the run in the stocking and the rouge too red, of the dramas and the traumas of a world smaller and more slatternly than life.

In her own life, however, Pym was not nearly as "excellent"...

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