Barbara Pym and the Bodleian

A display at the Bodleian Library, 9 November - 8 December 2013

This exhibition is now closed.


The novelist Barbara Pym (1913-1980) wrote 'the finest examples of high comedy to have appeared in England during the past 75 years' (Lord David Cecil, 1977). 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. After her death her sister, Hilary Walton, donated her literary papers to the Bodleian. This display celebrates Pym's involvement with the Library and the richness of the Pym papers held by it.

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According to Pym’s biographer, Hazel Holt, ‘Even by 1930s Oxford standards, where male undergraduates outnumbered the girls by at least ten to one, Barbara had a great many boyfriends’. Three of those were Rupert Gleadow, Henry Harvey and Julian Amery. The Bodleian often featured in her relationships with them. Later, in 1971, Pym wrote to Philip Larkin: ‘The (then) English Reading Room of the Bodleian Library has many sentimental memories for me – I can remember deliberately not going there for fear of seeing a certain person or to hope that my absence would be noted.’


Literary Notebooks and Drafts

Pym had what she described as ‘the notebook habit’, writing down ‘possible scenes or turns of plot for novels, quotations that appeal to me, occasional overheard scraps of conversation’. In the early days she wrote drafts of her novels by hand but as time went by this changed, as she writes to Philip Larkin in 1961, ‘I have to force myself to type some of the earlier chapters because that’s the only way I can tell what it’s going to be like’.

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