Barbara PYM (1913–1980)
Barn Cottage, High Street, Finstock
Born Barbara Mary Crampton Pym at Oswestry in 1913, the daughter of a solicitor, Frederic Crampton Pym, she was educated at Liverpool College, Huyton, and read English at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. There she developed her passion for literature and church ritual and also formed her habit of cherishing ‘unrequited attachments to unresponsive men’ (C. A. R. Hills, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography ), notably for one Henry Harvey who appears as the archdeacon, Henry Hoccleve, in her first published novel, Some Tame Gazelle. Disappointment in love is the inspiration for her thirteen novels, humorous and gentle satires on English parish and suburban life.
She had a long struggle to get the first novel into print, eventually succeeding in 1950, and up to 1961 six were published, including Excellent Women and A Glass of Blessings. Then she received a crushing blow when, in the changed climate of the nineteen sixties and seventies, publishers rejected An Unsuitable Attachment as unfashionable and she remained in the wilderness until 1977. In that year both Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin named her in the TLS as the most underrated writer of the century and reawakened the publishers’ interest. Her books began to be published again, beginning with Quartet in Autumn and she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Four manuscripts which had been gathering dust for years were published posthumously, including Crampton Hodnet, set in North Oxford.
During the war years she served in the WRNS and was posted to Naples. In 1946 she began research and editorial work at the International African Institute and the rest of her professional life was spent there. She lived with her sister Hilary Walton in various parts of London and then in 1972 they settled in Finstock at Barn Cottage. There Barbara remained, writing and participating in village life, until her death from cancer in 1980. Her final days were spent in the Oxford hospice, Michael Sobell House. She is buried in Finstock churchyard.
- Sources: Hazel Holt, A Lot to Ask: a life of Barbara Pym (1990); Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Picture: Barbara Pym’s former house
The plaque was unveiled at Barn Cottage, High Street, Finstock on 1 September 2006 by Deirdre Bryan-Brown, Chairman of the Barbara Pym Society, in conjunction with their annual conference at St Hilda’s College.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
The Barbara Pym Society