Some Tame Gazelle, or some gentle dove:
Something to love, oh something to love!
(Thomas Haynes Bayly)
My first read of 2013, and the first read of two reading challenges. Some Tame Gazelle fitted into my month of re-reading, and the Barbara Pym centenary readalong with members of the Libraryuthing Virago group and other Pym fans.
Some Tame Gazelle was Barbara Pym’s first published novel; published in 1950 it was in fact written much earlier. Pym was writing the novel while she herself was still a very young woman, she wrote about herself her sister and their circle of friends as she imagined they might be in another thirty years.
Belinda and Harriet Bede are spinster sisters in late middle age, living together in a tiny English village sometime during the first half of the twentieth century. Each of the sisters is preoccupied by local clergy, Harriet by ministering to a series of pale young curates who live in lodgings nearby and for whom she knits socks and makes apple jelly, and Belinda for the pompous self-important Archdeacon Henry Hoccleve who she first knew thirty years earlier.
Belinda, having loved the Archdeacon when she was twenty and not having found anyone to replace him since, had naturally got into the habit of loving him, though with the years her passion had mellowed into a comfortable feeling, more like the cosiness of a winter evening by the fire than the uncertain rapture of a spring morning.
Belinda’s rapturous loyalty to Henry and her dislike of his wife Agatha is a full time occupation. Harriet’s time meanwhile is taken up with wondering whether it is too soon to invite the curate to supper again, and gently fending off marriage proposals from Count Ricardo Bianco – a regular event she has come to depend upon. When Henry’s wife Agatha goes on holiday for a month without her husband it heralds small changes in their community.
“When the day came for Agatha to go away, Belinda and Harriet watched her departure out of Belinda’s bedroom window. From here there was an excellent view of the vicarage drive and gate. Belinda had brought some brass with her to clean and in the intervals when she stopped her vigorous rubbing to look out of the window, was careful to display the duster in her hand. Harriet stared out quite unashamedly, with nothing in her hand to excuse her presence there. She even had a pair of binoculars, which she was now trying to focus.”
Soon after Agatha leaves, a visiting librarian and later a Bishop arrive in the village bringing unsettling feelings with them. Each of these two men is quickly woven into the small group of people who surround the sisters, each of them threatening in their way to upset the comfortable way of life the sister lead.
Barbara Pym’s novels are generally described as social comedies, like Jane Austen and Elizabeth Taylor her canvases are small. Here we have a small English community of middle and upper middle class people, their small traditions and absurdities laid bare. Her humour is gentle, clever and beautifully observed. Barbara Pym’s world is not a world I see around me – even in English villages I don’t think it exists anymore – if it ever did, and yet, it is a world which is peculiarly recognisable.