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Barbara Pym

  • Miss Doggett again looked puzzled; it was as if she had heard that men only wanted one thing, but had forgotten for the moment what it was.

  • He did not find it easy to write to Prudence. To begin with, he had never been much of a letter-writer, and then her letters were of such a high literary standard, so much embellished with suitable quotations that he found it quite impossible to equal them.

  • What a good thing there is no marriage or giving in marriage in the after-life; it will certainly help to smooth things out.

  • She experienced all the cosiness and irritation which can come from living with thoroughly nice people with whom one has nothing in common.

  • There are various ways of mending a broken heart, but perhaps going to a learned conference is one of the more unusual.

  • Everything he didn't particularly want to do was described by Humphrey as 'good experience' ...

  • There was something about the idea of an orphan that brought out the best in Humphrey, that desire to do good without too much personal inconvenience that lurks in most of us.

  • Father G. was often obliged to enter houses where people were on the point of death or had already died; indeed he preferred this type of situation to normal parish visiting, with its awkward conversation and the inevitable cups of tea and sweet biscuits.

  • Inanimate objects were often so much nicer than people, she thought. What person, for example, could possibly be so comforting as one's bed?

  • There are no sick people in North Oxford. They are either dead or alive. It's sometimes difficult to tell the difference, that's all ...

  • It was often difficult to think of an apt quotation when one was in a hurry.

  • ... those quotations were really quite obscure. Anyone can see that he is a very well-read man.

  • I suppose we are apt to attribute to them all the virtues they preach.

  • This was one of Cassandra's special virtues, that she anticipated her husband's wishes almost before he knew what they were.

  • I imagine the proverb about too many cooks spoiling the broth can be applied to writing as well as anything else. The poetical or literary broth is better cooked by one person.

  • Oh how absurd and delicious it is to be in love with somebody younger than yourself! Everybody should try it.

    • Barbara Pym,
    • 1938, in Hazel Holt, A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym ()
  • Novel writing is a kind of private pleasure, even if nothing comes of it in worldly terms.

    • Barbara Pym,
    • 1976, in Hazel Holt, A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym ()
  • 'It seems to be a kind of lounge,' she added, tripping over a small footstool. The floor seemed to be littered with them, like toadstools.

  • She had always been an unashamed reader of novels.

  • In the weeks that had passed since she had met Rupert Stonebird at the vicarage her interest in him had deepened, mainly because she had not seen him again and had therefore been able to build up a more satisfactory picture of him than if she had been able to check with reality.

  • ... I told myself that, after all, life was like that for most of us — the small unpleasantnesses rather than the great tragedies; the little useless longings rather than the great renunciations and dramatic love affairs of history or fiction.

  • I realised that one might love him secretly with no hope of encouragement, which can be very enjoyable for the young or inexperienced.

  • I pulled myself up and told myself to stop these ridiculous thoughts, wondering why it is that we can never stop trying to analyse the motives of people who have no personal interest in us, in the vain hope of finding that perhaps they may have just a little after all.

  • We, my dear Mildred, are the observers of life. Let other people get married by all means, the more the merrier. ... Let Dora marry if she likes. She hasn't your talent for observation.

  • Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thought, as I watched Miss Statham filling the heavy teapot. Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'Do we need tea?' she echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury...' She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind. I mumbled something about making a joke and that of course one needed tea always, at every hour of the day or night.

  • The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.

  • ... I had observed that men did not usually do things unless they liked doing them.

  • Virtue is an excellent thing and we should all strive after it, but it can sometimes be a little depressing.

  • There are some things too dreadful to be revealed, and it is even more dreadful how, in spite of our better instincts, we long to know about them.

Barbara Pym, English writer

(1913 - 1980)

Full name: Barbara Mary Crampton Pym.