Barbara Pym is a writer who, strangely, is best known for being underrated. She published a number of books in the 1950s and 1960s, then fell out of fashion. She made a comeback in the late 1970s when both the literary critic Lord David Cecil and the poet Philip Larkin nominated her when asked by the Times Literary Supplement to name the most underrated writer of the 20th century. A Few Green Leaves was Pym’s final book, published shortly after her death in 1980.
Pym is often compared to Jane Austen, and the comparison is apt. Her books are witty and cast a critical eye on the petty conflicts and hypocrisies of everyday life, but usually in the service of a happy ending, in which our virtuous heroine finally gets what she deserves. Pym is one of my go-to authors in times of stress, and I ordered this book shortly after the pandemic-related stay-at-home order went into place in my state. Come for the beautiful William Morris wallpaper covers, stay for the gentle mockery, unrequited love, and surprisingly engaging descriptions of the old-school processes of creating indexes for academic books!
As her final book, A Few Green Leaves includes many of Pym’s hallmarks: country life, vicars (I think in this book he’s actually a rector but I’m American so I don’t know the difference between those), spinsters, lots of attention to food, and slightly ridiculous academics (particularly anthropologists). The village setting is vividly described, with lots of treks through the woods, charity teas and jumble sales, and search for the local deserted medieval village (which is never definitively found, although any random pile of stones could potentially serve).
Recommended for fans of: Jane Austen, Graham Greene, descriptions of baked goods.