Paula Byrne in Conversation with Bill Goldstein
This post is contributed by Phyllis Menne, Chair of Madison and Western WI.
In June, the Wisconsin Region co-hosted, with Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company, a virtual conversation between biographer Bill Goldstein and literary biographer and Austen scholar Paula Byrne about her recent biography, The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym. Wisconsin members enjoyed hearing new details about Pym, who is often referred to as a modern Jane Austen.
Byrne’s book focuses not only on Pym’s writing, but also presents an unvarnished account of Pym’s personal challenges and lays out how her resilience and strength kept her writing in spite of the rejection of her work by critics and publishers when public taste changed in the early 1960s. While this book describes Barbara Pym’s writing from the 1930 to her later years, it also deals with the rejection of her work by critics, the change in society’s appetite during the "wilderness years" of 1960 and 1977, Pym's numerous romantic rejections, her embrace of German culture and romantic love of a Nazi soldier, and other relationships.
Pym found her voice as she described partially as an “unsentimental treatment of the relationship between men and women” of a certain age of the middle class. Eudora Welty wrote of No Fond Return of Love, “Her (novels) are sheer delight, and all of them companionable. Quiet, paradoxical, funny and sad, they have the iron in them of permanence too.” Pym’s popularity returned in 1977, when poet Philip Larkin and Jane Austen biographer Lord David Cecil promoted her in a Times Literary Supplement poll as one of the most underrated writers of the twentieth century.
Paula Byrne felt the existing biographers did not do Miss Pym justice – they attempted to protect her rather than present her real-life challenges.
Miss Pym's works included:
Some Tame Gazelle (1950)
Excellent Women (1952)
Jane and Prudence (1953)
Less than Angels (1955)
A Glass of Blessings (1958)
No Fond Return of Love (1961)
Quartet in Autumn (1977)
The Sweet Dove Died (1978)
A Few Green Leaves (1980)
An Unsuitable Attachment (written 1963; published posthumously, 1982)
Crampton Hodnet (completed circa 1940, published posthumously, 1985)
An Academic Question (written 1970–72; published posthumously, 1986)
Civil to Strangers (written 1936; published posthumously, 1987)
Paula Byrne (2021). The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym. HarperCollins.
Kathryn Hughes (April 8, 2021). "The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne – the 'modern Jane Austen'?". The Guardian.