Long admired by readers for her wit, incisiveness, and comic flair, Barbara Pym has only begun to receive serious critical attention in recent years. Until now no biographer has fully explored the influence of Pym's life upon her work. In this first critical biography Anne Wyatt-Brown shows how Pym's transformation of everyday experiences into art allowed her to triumph over her social and emotional environments.
Whereas most literary biographies concentrate on the productive years of their subjects, this book takes a wider view, examining both the early influence of reading and the later effects of aging on Pym's creative development and on her career. Combining psychoanalytic insights, literary analysis, and gerontological and writing theories, Wyatt-Brown provides a deeper understanding of Pym's work. Reading Pym's novels in the context of her letters, diaries, and early manuscripts, Wyatt-Brown examines the forces that hindered Pym's early career and disrupted her success at midlife, when she became discouraged by her inability to extend her readership. Ironically, in her last years, ill-health provided Pym with a new subject and unexpectedly salvaged her foundering career.
Wyatt-Brown also argues that gender plays an important role in Pym's novels. Pym wrote from the perspective of marginal women who, despite education and cultivation, feel they have no recognizable role to play in the modern world. Spinsterhood kept Pym on the fringes of society, according to Wyatt-Brown and it was only Pym's extraordinary creativity that allowed her to transcend her situation. Barbara Pym: A Critical Biography provides a fascinating glimpse into the life and art of one of the best-loved British writers of the twentieth century. General readers, gender specialists, gerontologists, writing and reading theorists, and psychoanalytic critics will welcome this innovative and much-needed exploration of Barbara Pym's life and work.