The Blagger's Guide To: Barbara Pym

Read the book, then splash on a bit of the fragrance

The first in a year of events commemorating the centenary of the birth of Barbara Pym happens today at the Oxford Literary Festival. "Larkin's Letters to Barbara Pym" celebrates the friendship between the two writers, and starts at 10am in the Bodleian Library, which happens to hold all the letters of both.

It's all very Oxford: reading the letters will be the actors Triona Adams – a St Hilda's graduate (like Pym) – and Oliver Ford Davies, the father of a St Hilda's graduate. The performance was devised by the biographer Ann Thwaite (also St Hilda's) and her husband Anthony Thwaite, the editor of Philip Larkin's letters. It will be introduced by Eileen Roberts, of the Barbara Pym Society, which of course is based at St Hilda's College.

Barbara Mary Crampton Pym, right, was born on 2 June 1913, in Oswestry, Shropshire. Her mother was the assistant organist at St Oswald parish church, and the vicars and curates who came to the family home were soon adapted as characters in Pym's novels. Her first was written when she was 16. Young Men in Fancy Dress was not published, but it remains in her archive at the Bodleian Library.

After graduating from Oxford, Pym wrote Some Tame Gazelle – about two spinster sisters who bore remarkable similarities to herself and her sister Hilary – but this was also rejected by publishers. She joined the Wrens during the Second World War and was posted to Naples, before taking a job at the International African Institute in London, and then as the assistant editor of the journal Africa. Finally, a revised edition of Some Tame Gazelle was published by Jonathan Cape in 1950, and Pym was a hit.

Over the next few years, Pym built up a body of work and a reputation as a "chronicler of quiet lives", with a "unique eye and ear for the small poignancies and comedies of everyday life", as Larkin put it. But in 1963, her publisher turned down her next book, An Unsuitable Attachment – and then, so did 19 others. A true victim of fashion, Pym could not get published for 16 years.

Philip Larkin was partly responsible for Pym's sudden return to glory, when he wrote in the Times Literary Supplement in 1977 that she was "the most underrated novelist of the 20th century". After 16 years in what she called "the wilderness", Pym's books were republished and reached a whole new American audience. She was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Quartet in Autumn in 1977. She died in 1980.

Several of Pym's novels were published posthumously: An Unsuitable Attachment, Crampton Hodnet, Civil to Strangers and a sort-of autobiography, A Very Private Eye. A biography by her friend, Barbara Holt, was published in 1990.

For hard-core fans, there is even a perfume that smells like Barbara Pym – or at least her books, according to its designer. Paperback, sold by Demeter Fragrance in America, smells like "a dusty old copy of a Barbara Pym novel … sweet and just a touch musty". It is available as a cologne as well as a massage and body oil ($12). Who wouldn't want to be massaged by a Barbara Pym? The American Barbara Pym Society also sells Pym mugs, tote bags and pottery.

Further information about this year's centenary events can be found at: barbara-pym.org.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas