Thursday, 17 September 2015

A Letter from Barbara Pym

What can I say? When I am obsessed, I am obsessed. But her letters are well worth reading. Just read and tell me if you think so too:

To Robert Liddell in Helsingfors

                                                                                                                                                  early 1938

Friends and Relations

'You and Janie have been asked to lunch at Bryn Tirion,' said Mrs Pym, one Sunday morning. 'I hope I did right to accept the invitation for you, Barbara?'

'Yes, you did right,' said Barbara, in careful, considered tone. 'It would have been impolite to refuse when I had no previous engagement. I think Uncle Frank and Aunt Helen would have thought it so.'

'Well, dear, I daresay they would have thought nothing,' said Mrs Pym absently. 'We will have a boiled fowl for lunch with some hame.'

'We shall not need much supper, Irena,' said Aunt Janie in a prudent tone. 'I expect we shall get a good lunch and tea at Bryn Tirion.'

'Yes,' observed Mrs Pym. 'Helen keeps a very good table.'

'Well, well,' said Barbara in a bright, elderly tone. 'Here we are. Well, Uncle Frank how are you, and Cousin Charlotte I saw you at Oxford but it is a long time since I saw Cousin John. How tall he has grown.'

'Yes, he must be as tall as Emily's second boy,' said Aunt Helen, in a full, satisfied tone.

'No, John is much thinner than Billy,' said Barbara. 'Billy is very broad.'

'I expect John will fill out,' said Aunt Janie.

'Yes,' said John.

'Are Charlotte's eyes quite well again?' asked Barbara in an interested tone.

'Oh yes, I am all right now,' said Charlotte, 'but I missed a term's work. I shall not be able to get anything better than a third now.'
'We got £250 compensation from the Insurance Company,' said Uncle Frank.

'We were very pleased about it.'

'It was not enough,' said Barbara firmly. 'Charlotte would probably  have got a second if it had not been for this.'

'Oh, no, Charlotte is not clever,' said Aunt Helen in a full, sensible tone, 'she would never be able to get a second. She does not work as hard as you did, and you are not as clever as Barbara, are you Charlotte?'

'No, mother,' said Charlotte.

'And Hilary has gone to Greece,' said Aunt Helen. 'Has she gone alone?'

'No, she has gone with a young man she knows, a fellow of Magdalen, an archaeologist, we have met him, he has been to the house,' said Barbara in a high, hurrying tone.

'Ah,' said Aunt Helen. 'I expect there will be something between them after this. You mark my words.'

'Oh, I think Mr Hunt is just a friend,' said Aunt Janie quickly.

'I do not think there is any likelihood of an engagement,' said Barbara.

'Ah, but you never know,' said Aunt Helen hopefully.

'But I do not think...

'Well, lunch is ready. We will go in,' said Uncle Frank.

'What do you think about Austria and Germany?' said Aunt Helen.

'Well, I always like the Germans,' said Barbara.

'Oh, Barbara, surely you do not like the Germans,' said Aunt Helen.

'The ones I have met have been very nice,' said Barbara in a firm, level tone. 'I have a friend in Dresden...

'Ah I expect it is  young man,' said Aunt Helen in a triumphant tone, 'that is what it is.'

'Well, yes,' said Barbara, 'it is a young man, but that is not why...

'Oh, Barbara, you surely would not marry a German?' persisted Aunt Helen.

'No, I have no intention of marrying a German,' said Barbara firmly.

'Well, it would be something to talk about if Barbara married a German, would it not?' said Aunt Helen brightly. 'Personally I could not marry a foreigner.'

'Neither could I,' said Barbara in a hopeless tone - 'As I said I have no intention...

'You would have to live in Germany,' continued Aunt Helen. 'You would not be able to live in Oswestry. I wonder how you would like that.'

'How quickly time goes,' said Mrs Minshall, 'it seems only yesterday that you were married.'

'I have been married twenty six years,' said Mrs Pym, in a firm, clear tone.

Mrs Minshall looked surprised - 'But Barbara, she is how old - eighteen?'

'Barbara is twenty four,' said Mrs Pym in a clear, ringing tone.

'Yes, I am twenty four,' said Barbara in a low, mumbling tone.

'Well, well,' said Mrs Minshall.

'Have you heard that Greenfields is to be sold?' asked Mrs Pym.

'Poor Louisa Richards,' said Mrs Minshall, 'I suppose she is dead now.'

'No,' said Barbara, 'I saw her walking into the town yesterday.'

'Well, fancy, I thought she was dead. Your brother Ridley and his wife, are they still living?' asked Mrs Minshall, turning to Mrs Pym.

'Yes,' said Mrs Pym, 'They are very well.'

'And Janie - is she still single?'

'Yes,' said Mrs Pym smiling. 'Janie is still single.'

'Mrs Minshall seems to want us all to be either dead or married,' said Mrs Pym to her daughter as they drove home in the car.

'Well, I do not see what else we can be,' said Barbara in a thoughtful tone. 'I suppose we all come to one state or the other eventually. I do not know which I would rather be in.'

'Oh, there is plenty of time for that,' said Mrs Pym comfortably. 

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