Yay! More Barbara Pym! Aren’t you all excited? [on a serious note, this was a delightful experiment, and I am *so* glad I was determined to “collect” her]
This time, the “excellent woman” makes a reappearance and Dulcie Mainwaring (don’t you love the name?) is the protagonist. Shortly after her engagement ends, Dulcie attends an academic conference. There, she meets the wary and reserved Viola Dace, and becomes tangentially acquainted with scholar and presenter Aylwin Forbes. We learn that Viola had once had an affair with Forbes, and that Dulcie is well-intentioned but always meddling in other people’s affairs, particularly where living, eating, and matchmaking are concerned. The parody of academia is absolutely spot-on (especially Pym’s remarks about academic conferences, of which I have attended my fair share and can attest that her picture is all too true). Dulcie’s niece Laurel moves to London, and then the stage is set for a romantic showdown with lots of twists and turns amongst the characters. Who will prevail? And who is doomed to unrequited love?
Something that always strikes me about Pym is the way she uses single women as a character type to establish and then deconstruct social stereotypes. In the mid-twentieth-century, women were seen as useful to men, but the novel shows the limits and frustrations of being a glorified secretary when one possessed an actual degree. The male academics relied heavily on their female assistants and then promptly ignored their contributions (aside from a perfunctory acknowledgment). It’s an incisive glimpse at a woman’s role in society, and while Pym is deceptively gentle, her wit focuses on a stifling system that she herself longed to change.