Finally, after hearing about this biography for almost a year, it’s available in the United States, and I couldn’t be happier. Byrne chronicles the life of one of my favorite writers, whose work was acclaimed in the 1950s, couldn’t get published in the 1960s, and then was rediscovered in the late 1970s. The text flows in short, punchy chapters - you’ll discover that many of the excellent women (and not quite so excellent men) came from Pym’s own life - one that had more than its share of bad romances and a penchant for stalking people who captured her interest. I don’t think ‘spinster’ quite captures her! And even if you’ve read A Lot to Ask or A Very Private Eye, you don’t know the whole story - her longtime friend Hazel Holt offered readers an expurgated life (minus the Nazi boyfriend, for example). If you don’t know Pym’s work but you’re a Jane Austen fan, you’ll understand by the end why there are so many cross-over fans.— Daniel Goldin
'Captures both Barbara and her writing so miraculously' JILLY COOPER
Picked as a Book to Look Forward to in 2021 by the Guardian, The Times and the Observer
A Radio 4 Book of the Week, April 2021
Barbara Pym became beloved as one of the wittiest novelists of the late twentieth century, revealing the inner workings of domestic life so brilliantly that her friend Philip Larkin announced her the era's own Jane Austen. But who was Barbara Pym and why was the life of this English writer - one of the greatest chroniclers of the human heart - so defined by rejection, both in her writing and in love?
Pym lived through extraordinary times. She attended Oxford in the thirties when women were the minority. She spent time in Nazi Germany, falling for a man who was close to Hitler. She made a career on the Home Front as a single working girl in London's bedsit land. Through all of this, she wrote. Diaries, notes, letters, stories and more than a dozen novels - which as Byrne shows more often than not reflected the themes of Pym's own experience: worlds of spinster sisters and academics in unrequited love, of powerful intimacies that pulled together seemingly humble lives.
Paula Byrne's new biography is the first to make full use of Barbara Pym's archive. Brimming with new extracts from Pym's diaries, letters and novels, this book is a joyous introduction to a woman who was herself the very best of company.
Byrne brings Barbara Pym back to centre stage as one of the great English novelists: a generous, shrewdly perceptive writer and a brave woman, who only in the last years of her life was suddenly, resoundingly recognised for her genius.
About the Author
Paula Byrne is the author the bestselling biographies Perdita, Mad World, The Real Jane Austen, Belle, Kick and The Genius of Jane Austen. She is founder and chief executive of ReLit, the Bibliotherapy Foundation, a charity devoted to the mental health benefits of reading. She is married to Sir Jonathan Bate.