Pymmania: Less Than Angels, and a few things you should know about the making of tea

Readers of this blog, whom I won't be presumptuous enough to call happy few (though I might accurately call them few) might know, by now, that I am an unquestioning admirer of Barbara Pym, a lovely British writer who could aptly be described as "the author of graceful comedies about the middle-class British and specifically about the world of the Anglican spinster". I know, this doesn't sound too fascinating but for some reason it is, and I love it (I also love Rammstein, by the way, a fact which has absolutely no connection with dear Barbara -- I just want you to know how eclectic I am).

I adore Barbara Pym so much that I have painstakingly collected all of her books and read them progressively. My last read is called Less Than Angels and was published in 1955.

The population of this novel is essentially made out of young anthropoly students who flirt and vie with each other for scholarships. One of the main characters is a lady writing for women's magazines, whose selfless heart and high culinary skills make her spend a lot of time feeding the aforementioned hungry and penniless students. Also present are two intellectual spinsters who share a flat, where they live "out of tins and on frozen stuff", their main interest being the advancement of science, a  missionary linguist with a bushy beard and a bad conscience, etc.

The book is consistently pymian and very funny, as you may see from the excerpt below.

Esther Clovis had formerly been secretary of a Learned Society, which post she had recently left because of some disagreement with the President. It is often supposed that those who live and work in academic or intellectual circles are above the petty disputes that vex the rest of us, but it does sometimes seem as if the exalted nature of their work makes it necessary for them to descend occasionally and to refresh themselves, as it were, by squabbling about trivialities.
The subject of Miss Clovis' quarrel with the President was known only to a privileged few and even those knew no more than that it had something to do with the making of tea. Not that the making of tea can ever really be regarded as a petty or trivial matter and Miss Clovis did seem to have been seriously at fault. Hot water from the tap had been used, the kettle had not been quite boiling, the teapot had not been warmed...


{Pym, Barbara, Less Than Angels, 1955 -- Moins que les anges, traduit de l'anglais par Sabine Porte, 1994}

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