Social Dimensions in the Novels of Barbara Pym, 1949-1963

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This study considers the six novels written by English novelist, Barbara Pym (1913-1980), between 1949 and 1963, which demonstrate the response of a specific class of people, represented by her heroines, to the dramatic social, cultural and demographic changes that took place in Britain at the time. Treating Pym’s 1950s novels as social-historical sources, this work attempts to analyze the way in which her portrayals of society, like those of so many other English writers, served both as a testimonies and critiques of the times in which she lived. The focal point of Pym’s novels was the interaction between the individual and the community: the Church, the parish or the work place. Therefore, this book attempts to reconstruct the social world of the female protagonists, moving from the public to the private domain, thereby opening up Pym’s novels to a new generation of readers.


“By focusing on the novels produced in the fifties, against the background of seemingly profound social and cultural change, Dr. Raz is able to examine and, as it were, to reconstruct, what Pym’s readers might have understood of the complex interaction between the novels and their social contexts. This approach aims to recover ‘what was obvious to Pym’s contemporary reader who was, like the author, “present at the scene”, but is not self-explanatory to today’s readers.’” – Dr. John Brannigan, School of English and Drama, University College Dublin

“This book offers an excellent account of the often subtle and highly nuanced social context of Barbara Pym’s novels. It is a perceptive and insightful account of the strange and sometimes morally ambiguous worlds inhabited by her characters.” – Dr. Mark D. Chapman, Vice-Principal, Ripon College Cuddesdon, Oxford

“The book’s analysis of the narrative details of Pym’s novels shows out of what materials the fictional world is constructed and what elements of the external reality known to the author and her initial target audience are reflected in those details.” – Professor Leona Toker, Department of English, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Table of Contents

Preface by John Brannigan
1 “Out of Touch with Life”: Representation of the Post-War Church
2 “Daring and Romish”: Anglo-Catholicism in the Novels
3 “An Unselfish and Tireless Worker”: Women and the Church
4 “Going up to Oxford”: Women’s Higher Education
5 “Clearly Labeled”: Women’s Roles
6 “Dreary Cosiness”: Domestic Life
7 “One of These”: Ambiguous Treatment of Male Sexuality
8 “The Sympathy of Other Women”: Personal Friendship between Women
9 “Change is a Bad Thing”: On Pym’s Social Commentary

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