Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A final word on Pym

I spent this week trying to read Barbara Pym's A Very Private Eye, a collection of her letters, notes, and journal entries. I got about halfway through before giving up. Unless one is an academic or a fanatic (notice how I kindly separate the two), about all one can glean is the feeling that Pym in life was a lovesick teenager. All her journals and letters focus on men, boys, and romantic love, reading like adolescent pinings. Major events like her writing, publication, and participation in the WRNS during World War II are subsumed by her yearnings for various clearly unavailable men. While she cried after tea, Virginia Woolf was struggling with mental illness and writing terrified dispatches about being bombed. Anais Nin, ever self-preserving, had fled to New York, where she dallied with Otto Rank and tried to decide what to do about Henry Miller. Simone de Beauvior, like Woolf, was relatively nearby, hiding out with Olga Koskiewicz and worrying about Sartre, who, amazingly enough, had been called to serve. She was also cooking up a little novel called The Mandarins.

I realize that only two posts ago I was discussing my aversion to including politics in my work. But I am not in the WRNS. I am not--and I know how fortunate I am--being bombed. The people I love are not being called into military action; my stockings and foodstuffs are not rationed. How can one live in the midst of something like that and be crying over men who comes across as frankly unappealing?

I kept reading, thinking Barbara would grow older, her jottings more mature. By the time I gave up, the war had ended and Pym was in her mid-thirties. In fairness, perhaps middle age brought a more adult view of things. And her books are nothing like her journals; maybe the best of her thinking went into them?

I don't know. But I couldn't read any more about the Gordons and Friedberts and Johns. So, I gave up. Started The Emperor's Children anew. Pretty wrenching to be tossed into the present, amidst a bunch of acidic New Yorkers in carefully fashionable surroundings:

"Marina stood and proceeded to turn on the large beaten-copper lamps around the living room, revealing suddenly a bath of color, of pinks and oranges and terracotta, the burnt umber of the sofa...supposedly Mediterranean in atmosphere, it did seem to make the room warmer...." (22)

God help us. I'm on page 51, and the descriptions of housing and meals alone are making me slightly ill...so much worried arrangement, so much anxiety over objects whilst the characters fuss about. We'll see.

The quotation comes from Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children: Knopf, New York, 2006.

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