Monday, May 22, 2017

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017: Less Than Angels


For the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 (hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate) for the category “Classic by a Woman Author” I decided to go with Barbara Pym’s Less than Angels, which was first published in 1955.

Less Than Angels more or less revolves around the lives and loves of a handful of anthropology students and their lecturers in 1950’s London.   I write “more or less” but really it is so much more.  One could consider Tom Mallow, the anthropology grad student who comes back to London after two years of field work in Africa to write his PhD dissertation to be the main character and the plot to be how he handles the three women who love him.   However, in my experience with Barbara Pym novels, plot is really secondary to the characters and the small world they inhabit within the wider macrocosm of London. Pym worked for an anthropological society in the 1950’s and 60’s, so not only does she understand her subject matter, but she also very purposefully observes academics and the middle class as if they were anthropological subjects in their “native habitats”.

Less Than Angels is the third Pym title I have read and I particularly enjoy her  understated style and subtle humor. One of Tom’s love interests is Deirdre Swann, anthropology undergraduate who is uncertain of her choice of study. Deirde lives at home in the London suburbs with her mother, older brother and Aunt Rhoda.  I loved Rhoda, who sneaks around at night correcting her sister’s housework like refolding towels or setting out the juice glasses for the next morning’s breakfast.  Another favorite minor character is the Swanns’ neighbor, Mr. Lydgate, semi-retired from the colonial service, who sometimes sits at home in his study with an African mask over his head, wishing he were back there. “He often thought what a good thing it would be if the wearing of masks or animals' heads could become customary for persons over a certain age. How restful social intercourse would be if the face did not have to assume any expression--the strained look of interest, the simulated delight or surprise, the anxious concern one didn't really feel.

Were it not for the internet, I doubt I would have ever encountered Pym’s work. I first heard about her from Thomas at the blog Hogglestock in 2011.  She is definitely one of those lesser known writers who inspire profound love and devotion when she connects with the right reader.

10 comments:

  1. I read this particular Pym earlier this year and enjoyed it a lot. But then I always enjoy Pym's wit and humor and her "quiet" way of telling stories. She's become one of my favorite underappreciated authors. :)

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    1. Thanks for the comment Lark! I remember that review and that is in part what spurred me on to pick up this particular title!

      Did you notice there was a little clue in Less than Angels about Mildred's "fate"from Excellent Women? It is just one little line.

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    2. I did notice that. :) I think Pym liked to overlap her books and her characters, and it always makes me smile when I discover another overlap.

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  2. I have always meant to read more Pym. Too many books! I am giving up on my latest classic. Just not right time nor frame of mind (Orlando)

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    1. Thanks for the comment Care! I totally understand about the right time and place for certain books. I haven't read Orlando but I found I needed extra brain power and quiet to read other Virginia Woolf titles.

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  3. And now, thanks to the Internet, I know about Pym too. This looks like a great title. I enjoyed the review. (I tried to subscribe to your blog but I cannot find the button).

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    1. Thanks for the Comment Silvia! Sorry, I don't know how to add a subscribe button. I will google it and see if I can manage it.

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    2. I can subscribe to comments per post, and that's great. I'm sorry to put you in that pickle. I used to have a blogger blog before moving to WordPress. There's an already done button or widget that blogger gives you, that says, subscribe to posts, that one, whenever we click, we can subscribe, and every-time you write a new post I'll get them. But I see you often to remember to stop by, lol.

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  4. Looking forward to this Pym myself--the setting and premise are great.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Jane! I had no idea that this would be the perfect compliment to Excellent Women that it was. I am sure you will enjoy it.

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