12 November 2013
Distinguished author P. D James formally opened a special display to mark the centenary of Barbara Pym's birth and legacy as a novelist.
Barbara Pym (1913-1980) wrote the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the twentieth century of which the best known are Excellent Women (1952) and A Glass of Blessings (1958). As a student at St Hilda's College in the 1930s, she studied and socialized in the Bodleian, which features in many of her early works and in later correspondence with the poet Philip Larkin. A former member of staff, Robert Liddell, who worked in the Bodleian's Department of Western Manuscripts, was even the model for Pym's fictional Bodley's Librarian, Nicholas Parnell, in her early novel Some Tame Gazelle. Pym corresponded with poet Philip Larkin from 1961, when he first wrote to her asking her permission to write an essay on her novels. They never formally met until 1975, but they kept up their correspondence until her death and he was always an active advocate of her work. Barbara Pym died 11 January 1980 at Michael Sobell House in Oxford.
After her death her sister, Hilary Walton, donated her literary papers to the Bodleian and set up the Barbara Pym Award to 'be of benefit to staff rather than a gift to the Library itself'. This month-long display celebrates Pym's involvement with the Library and the richness of the Pym papers held by it. It features a rich and varied collection of documents, including The Magic Diamond (Pym's earliest recorded work), manuscripts of her best known novel, Excellent Women, and letters from other writers and her lovers.
Further details on the display and how you can visit can be found here.