Monday, June 2, 2014

Birthday Girl: An Excellent Woman

Barbara Pym would have been 101 today; in a better world, she would be - although given her abiding faith in (or at least fascination with) the Church (in its middle-high Anglo-Catholic form particularly), perhaps she is.  And for her birthday, this treat.

It is 1991's Miss Pym's Day Out, a curious hybrid of a film, in which an important day in Pym's life (in 1977, when she attended as a nominee the Booker Prize ceremony - alas, she did not win) is dramatized, interspersed with bits and pieces of rich Pymiana and acted, in part, by real people, including Pym's sister Hilary; one of the men who gave her (also, possibly, alas) no fond return of love, Henry Harvey; her colleague and eventual biographer, Hazel Holt; and even the villain of her piece, as it were, Tom Maschler, the publisher who first rejected one of her novels, starting her 14 years in the literary desert, unpublished and as good as forgotten.

Miss Pym, as most of you I'm sure will immediately see, is no less than the great Patricia Routledge, quiet and still and marvelous in a part that largely calls on her to think aloud, under a voiceover.

It is, in its small way, heaven.

It was an odd sensation to see Hilary Walton (she was the married Pym sister, at least for a while) and Hazel Holt, for once, long ago, I had the great good fortune to meet them, at tea, in Brooklyn (of all places).  I honestly forget how they came into the orbit of my Brooklyn friend, who at least lived at a very Pym address, on Pineapple Street.  I am forever grateful, though, that I was asked and got to spend an afternoon with them, talking, not so much of Pym herself, but of Pym things - nice things to eat and drink, and the things one observes riding the bus or walking on a busy street.  They were charming gentlewomen exactly of the kind about whom Pym writes, and whom we meet on the edges, in this film, of Barbara Pym's day.

Pym sought to be a distinctive voice, thinking it a very great thing to leave a written legacy in which any given bit is immediately recognizable; she thought it a kind of immortality.  "A lot to ask for," she called it - but it is her great achievement that it is exactly what her writing has.  Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. How absolutely perfect (I can't help sounding like a Pym character suddenly.) Cookery books. A hot milky drink. A RUMMAGE SALE.

    I'm thrilled and a little alarmed that I recognized every quotation and which book they were from. I'm off to read, again, An Excellent Woman.