Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

I can’t think why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Barbara Pym. But I’m glad that I have even if I’m a latecomer to the party. Some Tame Gazelle was her debut novel.  In it she features characters based on people within her own circle of friends and acquaintances but imagines how their lives could be twenty or thirty years’ time.

some tame gazelleThe two ‘gazelles’ are the middle-aged spinster sisters  Belinda and Harriet Bede. Belinda is the more intelligent one having taken a degree in literature. She’s long harboured a passion for the Archdeacon who lives in the village, being almost the only one who can tolerate his obscure sermons and propensity to regale  everyone with his literary knowledge.  Harriet has looks instead of grey cells but though her beauty has faded she is still the subject of repeated marriage proposals of an Italian count who lives locally.  Instead she takes a fancy to every new curate who passes her way.

A smart and floridly handsome admirer in the Prime of Life would be much more acceptable to her than a husband of the same description. In her girlhood imaginings, Harriet had always visualised a tall, pale man for her husband, hence her partiality forthe clergy. ……. Who would exchange a comfortable life of spinsterhood in a country parish which always had its pale curate to be cherished, for the unknown trials of matrimony?

During the course of the book, both sisters reject proposals which would have taken them into the unknown world of marriage. They do so partly because they are not attracted to these men, but also because they are settled in their lives together and view marriage as a disturbance of that equilibrium.

Pym shines at portraying daily life in an English village of the 1950s with all its peculiarities  and minor concerns. The mending of stays, the correct way to turn the heel of a sock; what to serve guests for lunch: these are the daily dilemmas of  Harriet and Belinda.

Were all new curates always given boiled chicken when they came to supper for the first time? Belinda wondered. It was certainly an established ritual at their house and it seemed somehow right for the new curate. The coldness, the whiteness, the muffling with the sauce, perhaps even the sharpness added by the slices of lemon, there was something appropriate here even if Belinda could not see exactly what it was.

As amusing as these glimpses are of a world full of such small pains and pleasures,  there is a sadness surrounding Pym’s leading ladies.  With their faded hopes and lost dreams, these are gazelles who have lost a little of their spring but have found other compensations in life.

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BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

27 thoughts on “Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

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  • February 19, 2016 at 2:51 pm
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    I was very impressed by my first Pym, A Glass of Blessings. I do plan to read more. Subtle humour as you say in one of the comments. A truly delightful author.

    Have you read any Elizabeth Taylor? I’m reading her at the moment and while they’re not too similar they both have a certain unshowy excellence in their writing.

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    • February 21, 2016 at 5:53 pm
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      I’ve read two Elizabeth Taylors. The first Wreath of Roses left me cold but I enjoyed Mrs P at the Claremont much more. I’ve since bought another three

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  • February 9, 2016 at 7:02 pm
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    Hooray for your first Pym! I’ve not rad this one yet but the three other Pyms I have read I enjoyed immensely.

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    • February 11, 2016 at 7:47 pm
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      so many people were telling me how great she is that I just had to give her a go

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      • February 12, 2016 at 1:58 pm
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        Do you think you will read any of her other books? Excellent Women is really good and Less Thank Angels is hilarious.

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  • February 7, 2016 at 9:02 pm
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    A great review and I did read some of Barbara Pym’s books but that was years ago – Your review has made me resolve to revisit her

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    • February 8, 2016 at 1:20 am
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      She does seem like an author than can be revisited with a lot of pleasure

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  • February 7, 2016 at 4:39 pm
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    Love the passage you’ve quoted! I’ve only read a few by Barbara Pym, and that was when I was so much younger, I’ve forgotten everything about them. Now I think I need to read (or reread) Some Tame Gazelle, Excellent Women, and Quartet in Autumn!

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    • February 8, 2016 at 1:19 am
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      So many people are highlighting Quartet innAutumn that I’m thinking I should abandon the idea of reading the books in order of publication and just go straight to this one,

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  • February 7, 2016 at 3:55 am
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    Great review, and now I must check out Pym, too…I haven’t read her yet, and I love the sound of this book. Thanks for sharing…and for visiting my blog.

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  • February 6, 2016 at 5:34 pm
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    I’ve only just come to Pym as well, after a friend selected Jane and Prudence for book group. The response was interesting with one or two members who are avid readers of contemporary fiction completely unable to recognise the merits of someone who wrote about the daily trials of life in such an understated and controlled manner. Like you, I am going to have to look out more of her works.

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    • February 8, 2016 at 1:22 am
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      Understated and controlled is a good description of the narrative style in this book at least. Isn’t it such a wonderful feeling to discover a new author and know there are many works by them available?

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  • February 6, 2016 at 12:23 pm
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    I love Barbara Pym she’s a subtly subversive writer and she always makes me laugh much more than I expect!

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    • February 8, 2016 at 1:23 am
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      Usually when I read that an author makes people laugh I shy away – I do have a sense of humour but often lose it when reading. What I enjoyed about Pym however was the subtlety of the humour

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  • February 6, 2016 at 11:29 am
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    Wonderful review! I’m also curious to sample some Barbara Pym after reading a number of raving reviews in the blogosphere. Until recently I had dismissed Pym as slightly stuffy light reading, but by the sounds of things I’m in for a treat. As chance would have it I picked up four Pyms in a charity shop yesterday – I can’t wait!

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    • February 8, 2016 at 1:24 am
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      Four in one bookshops visit, that should be a sign it’s time to get to know her Sarah

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  • February 6, 2016 at 11:25 am
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    Stupid autocorrect Jane and Prudence and No Fond Return of Love.

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  • February 6, 2016 at 11:24 am
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    Lovely review. I adore Barbara Pym – she is balm for the soul – and yet there is astute observation and unexpected sharpness. Janet and Prudence and No Find Return of Love are two favourites also with Excellent Women is great. Quartet in Autumn is probably her darkest book but is absolute genius.

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    • February 8, 2016 at 1:25 am
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      Thanks for those recommendations Ali, I was wondering whether to just read her in order of publication

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      • February 8, 2016 at 6:35 am
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        Yes you could read her in publication order my second reading of most of her novels was done that way. Of course Crampton Hodnet was published much later but written around the time of STG. Whichever you read you have treats in store.

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        • February 11, 2016 at 8:18 pm
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          thanks for that insight Ali. Pym here we come though not just yet since I am doing the triple dog dare where i read only my TBR books until end of April

  • February 6, 2016 at 9:22 am
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    I really think Barbara Pym is the bee’s knees and I know we’re not currently supposed to be adding books to shelves, but “Quartet in Autumn” is one of my best loved reads – same tinge of sadness as in all her writing, but it’s marvellous – tragicomic, a whole world portrayed in such a slim book, I could go on and on … I would love to know if you would enjoy it as much…

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    • February 6, 2016 at 10:08 am
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      Having dipped my toe in the Pym lake as it were I’m keen to read more. So Quartet in Autumn sounds like it should be my next choice. Thanks for that recommendation

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  • February 6, 2016 at 7:29 am
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    Lovely review. I can see a few similarities between this novel and Excellent Women, particularly the choice between the familiarity of life as a spinster vs the uncertainty and potential trials of marriage. Nice commentary on Pym’s portrayal of an English village, too – she’s strong on the details of day-to-day life.

    Reply

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