Understanding what makes Barbara’s novels great starts by knowing her story. Barbara was born, Barbara Mary Crampton Pym, on June 2 1913. Her family consisted of her parents Federic and Irena Pym and younger sister/best friend Hilary. Pym was born in Oswestry, Shropshire on the Welsh border (barbarapym.org). Her family was active at the parish of St. Oswald, “entertaining vicars and curates became a part of the Pym family life” (Barbarapym.org). These experiences would later lead to endearing characters in her novels. After earning her second-class honors degree she returned to her hometown and began writing Some Tame Gazelle. The novel ironically is about two middle aged spinsters, unknowingly foreshadowing to her sister and herself in the future. When the war broke out in Europe in the 1940’s she was assigned to the censorship office at Bristol. After a luckless romance she joined the Wrens, Women’s Royal Naval Service, from 1944 to the end she was in Naples. (Barbarapym.org) While in the service she continued to write and gather inspiration for future novels.
Her first novel to be published was Some Tame Gazelle, about fifteen years after she wrote it. Jonathan Cape became her publisher for the next decade. She published a new novel every couple of years until 1963. She tried to publish An Unsuitable Attachment but was denied due to not being with the times. After several publishers refused the novel she was devastated and gave up. This caused her to sink into what she and her friends later called “the wilderness” (Barbarapym.org). It seemed this literary slump would never lift, “’I get moments of gloom and pessimism when it seems as if nobody could ever like my kind of writing again’ she wrote in 1970”(Barbarapym.org). After another luckless love affair she wrote the novel The Sweet Dove Died, darker then her previous novels; this too was rejected. Her life took a staggering hit when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy in 1971 and in 1974 when she had a stroke. After this she left her job and moved in with her sister Hilary in Finstock. She began work on another darker novel Quartet in Autumn, yet again Jonathan Cape rejected the novel. “The wilderness” finally ended when Pym was said to be “the most underrated novelist of the century”. In 1977 Macmillan published her latest novel and a year later A Sweet Dove Died was published. After this uproar of rediscovered fame her novels reached American, sparking a republish of all her novels. Then after continued success the novel were translated to other languages. Sadly just after two years of acclaim her cancer returned. She hastily wrote her final novel A Few Green Leaves. She died January 11 1980. Two years later her dear friend Hazel Holt had Pym’s first novel rejected An Unsuitable Attachment published. In 1984 Holt and Pym’s sister Hilary had her diaries published into an unofficial autobiography called A Very Private Eye.
Now with some understanding of Barbara Pym one can argue why she is a great novelist. With insight into her life it becomes apparent each character is a spinoff of some person or aspect of her life. Pym is worthy of the title of a great by her relate ability. Pym herself said it best in a radio