The third Barbara Pym I chose to read this year is Some Tame Gazelle. I’ve seen a few bloggers claim this as their second favorite Pym, after Excellent Women of course, but I liked Jane and Prudence better. However, this novel does have its strong points and is another quietly charming and droll little Pym that is very enjoyable and thought provoking.
Some Tame Gazelle takes place in recognizable Pym territory – a small English village centered around the church. Belinda and Harriet are two spinster sisters who live together next door to the vicarage. Belinda has always been in love with the Archdeacon and Harriet has a “thing” for curates. Though she has many admirers and marriage proposals Harriet prefers to dote on the young curates who serve in the village to the point of becoming possessive of them. The plot ambles along describing the comings and goings in the village, the surprising couplings of some of the villagers, Belinda’s quiet devotion to the Archdeacon and Harriet’s more unrestrained passion for her curates.
As always, Pym is funny and her characters are outstanding, but I think this is an unsettling novel. It has an underlying sadness that I did not feel from the other two Pym’s I’ve read. Belinda is a lovely person, but her constant devotion to a man who is a narcissistic jerk made her almost too pathetic to like. Her sister’s preference for curates over having a real relationship frustrated me. Is Pym trying to convey that fantasy relationships are better than actual ones? That it is easier to love someone you know will not love you back rather than accept a flawed and complex person to have a partnership with? After all, her male characters are not ones I would want to marry.
Barbara Pym’s novels seem like frothy, humorous confections that you wouldn’t think deserved a second thought. But I have given them much thought after reading each of the three I’ve finished so far. Her novels constantly challenge the idea of womanhood, wifehood and what it really means to be a single woman in a marriage-based society.
I am so glad that I started reading Barbara Pym. Her novels are deeply satisfying on many levels. I think that A Glass of Blessings will be my next one. Have you tried her yet?