Monday, May 30, 2011

"Crampton Hodnet"

I recently ran across a copy of "Crampton Hodnet" (Moyer Bell, 1985), by the always delightful and insightful Barbara Pym. I have read it before, as I have read all of Pym's novels, some several times, but I couldn't resist reading it again. And who could resist a novel with such chapter titles as "Sunday Tea Party," "A Safe Place for a Clergyman," "Love in the British Museum," and "Edward and Mother Give a Tea Party"? The novel is set in North Oxford, among university dons and their families, undergraduates, nosy neighbors, and young curates. The central character, Miss Morrow, is a drab woman in her mid-thirties who makes her living as a paid companion to an annoying older woman, Miss Doggett. Miss Morrow's faded persona hides a very intelligent mind and a kind heart; she notices everything. There are flirtations, small crises, gossip, small trips, and other events...and always, always, people drinking tea together. On the surface, this novel is a light confection, and quite humorous. But there are, underlying it all, some serious questions about marriage, love, the single life, and what makes life worthwhile. There really is no author like Pym; I have always found her fiction enchanting and very funny, as well as thoughtful and thought-provoking. If you haven't read Pym's novels yet, you are in for a treat.

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