In the fall of 2001 I was sitting in an undergraduate creative writing class. My favorite writing instructor, Dr. Lorraine Lopez, was trying to teach we dunderheads the subtle art of dialogue. Good dialogue was natural to the time, characters, and setting. Excellent dialogue bumped it up a notch and delivered believable communication but with the added addition of filling in the reading on important things like hypocrisy or underlying motives, or other such nuances. The shrewd writer’s ever-observing eye would infuse the text with layered meaning, but if done well it should slip in ninja like – unnoticed. The reader should read the passage, be educated/entertained, and be further hooked on the plot and characters.
Then Dr. Lopez mentioned that Barbara Pym was her favorite author and the absolute best at dialogue and could be compared to Jane Austen in that regard. Then I stopped listening. My professor was brilliant and typically I would trust anything she said, but how could someone be as good as Jane Austen. To be honest, I was sick of everything under the sun being compared to Jane Austen. Keep in mind the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice was still hugely popular and inspired a barage of vapid romances “inspired” by Austen’s work. I hated how Austen had become a staple of pop culture; her shrewdly observant, often edgily feminist social critiques were reduced down to romantic stories for smart girls. Also every blasted chick lit book for the past ten years compares the author/story to Austen. I was sick of it.
When trusted professors recommended Pym I disregarded it. After a quick internet search on Barbara Pym I decided to not read her; after all, it seemed as if she were just a quick-witted, quintessentially British lady writing cozy pot-boilers. I wanted no part of it.
My love and adoration of Austen poisoned me against Pym initially. I was prideful of my own knowledge of literature (oh to be a confident undergrad again) and prejudiced against anything seeming to ride on the coat tales of Austen.
Thank the heavens for blogging and the maturity that comes with graduating and realizing I didn’t know everything about literature. As I began blogging about books I met some mighty smart, well-read folks and most of these intelligent bookish folks celebrated Pym as truly a treasure to read.
I jumped in and read A Few Green Leaves. Loved it. Then I read The Sweet Dove Died. Loved it even more. Then I read Excellent Women and I was absolutely smitten with Pym. She absolutely deserves a comparison to Austen in her superbly written dialogue and social commentary. I think Pym is also like Austen in that she can deliver wittiness and sarcasm without being bitchy. I could seriously hang with these two ladies all day.
There you have it. My introduction to Pym. Let me know in the comments how you met Pym. If you have never read a Pym book then by golly you’re in the right place. June 1st – 8th Thomas and I are celebrating Pym’s centenary. Feel free to participate! All you need to do is leave a comment with a link back to your post about Pym (or if you don’t have a blog you can discuss in the comments of this post). Brew some tea, curl up with a fantastic novel, and join us. In addition to reading some fabulous literature, we’ll also be offering up giveaways and prizes. Tune in tomorrow for details on a Barbara Pym cover contest and a celebratory tea!