Reading Barbara Pym: Crampton Hodnet

I am still carrying on with Barbara Pym, as I've just finished Crampton Hodnet, one of her early novels, which she mainly wrote during WW2.
It's all about life in North Oxford; a formidable old lady, Miss Doggett, and her companion, meek and mild Miss Morrow, live in a dark Victorian house. Miss Dogget's nephew, Francis Cleveland, teaches seventeenth century poetry and tutors a pretty young girl whom he falls in love with (because he lacks his wife's attention). Life is a tad boring, tea and cake are consumed, social functions and church services are being attended. There's quite a bit of love going on, as well. Kisses exchanged in a library, a conversation in a tool shed, a marriage proposal (refused); and this curious break-up letter:
I expect you have been wondering why I hav'ent answered your letters. The truth is that I have been meaning to write for some time but hav'ent had a moment till now. I think you will agree that is has been evident for some time that we were growing rather weary of each other's company and that it would be no use our continuing to meet under such circumstances. As a matter of fact I have met someone else out here, and it is not unlikely that we shall become engaged in the near future. You must meet her sometime, I'm sure you would be great friends. I do hope this won't be too great a shock to you, dear. You know I would hate to hurt you, but I think you will agree that I have done the kindest thing in telling you the truth. I shall always be awfully glad to see you in Chester Square whenever you happen to be in town. We have had some good times together, hav'ent we? (p. 200-201)
Although it's not Pym's best, it's really a charming text, full of humorous, smart observations on the North Oxfordian comedy of manners. It's also quite light-hearted, if you except the awful remarks Miss Doggett (a real sadist) snaps at her companion. Like this one : "A plain woman no longer young is often the most likely to lose her head." (119)

People eat and cook quite a bit in BP's novels (I guess this is because she's that kind of writer who likes to focus on the smallest details of domestic life). Actually, there's even a BP cookbook (lovely cover art), but it's sadly out of print. I would be curious to have a peek at it someday. In Crampton Hodnet, gooseberries are tailed and topped during a stressful conversation about adultery. (Gooseberries seem to be a very British fruit, for some reason. Here in Brussels, you can buy a lovely gooseberry tart at pâtisserie Renard in Ixelles, but I haven't done that in quite a while.)

If, like me, you're a diehard fan, you can purchase mugs and greeting cards on the BP's Society website. Not so pretty, but quite a bit fun. They also have a newsletter, to which I would love to subscribe (but you have to be a Society member, and I don't feel up to that (and probably never will)).

Photo: smallest detail of my domestic life, but no gooseberries


{Pym, Barbara, Crampton Hodnet, published posthumously in 1985, written in 1940 --- Crampton Hodnet, traduit de l'anglais par Bernard Turle, Paris, UGE, "10-18 Domaine étranger", 1994}

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