…I would have my own Society

By the end of next week I shall be primed to write about an archive visit that I am looking forward to immensely, but since it hasn’t happened yet, this post shall instead concern itself with a lovely Sunday jaunt that I have just returned from.

A few months ago my wonderful colleague Sue asked if I would like to go with her to a talk – Anglicanism and Women Novelists: A Special Relationship – which was being held by the Barbara Pym Society. I must confess that not only had I not read any Barbara Pym, but I hadn’t even heard of her, so I was nervous of accepting in case I should find myself surrounded by voracious fans quoting their favourite sentences at each other, and debating the merits or flaws of characters I did not know. Having been assured that my ignorance would not be frowned upon, I very happily agreed to go, and that is where I was this afternoon.

(As an aside, I feel it worth lamenting that ‘the Naomi Rebis Society’ does not sound nearly as glamorous!)

Sue also kindly leant me the novel Less than Angels, so I could at least acquaint myself with Barbara Pym’s writing, and I was heartened to see her praised as “A modern Jane Austen” on the cover. That’s recommendation enough for me, I thought! Sue gave it to me on Tuesday (Monday being the Bank Holiday) and I duly devoured it by Friday evening (reminding myself in the process how much I like reading, and how satisfying it is to finish a book in good time).

Sue’s reason for choosing this particular book as my first foray into Barbara Pym was that a decent chunk of it takes place in a library, and because of this I discovered one of the truest/most wonderful sentences I have ever read. For context, there is to be a party in the new anthropology library that has been set up (which the benefactor of the library is to attend) but the organisers are horrified to find the room set aside for the party is currently populated with students who are, naturally, not invited to the celebrations.

And so we come to the sentence: “Miss. Clovis and her friend Miss. Lydgate, who was an expert in African languages, had been in and out of the room with plates of eatables in their hands several times, thinking that surely at the sight of food, unexpected in any kind of library, the visitors would realize that something was afoot and make a move to go.” 1 Suffice it to say that the visitors do not go, only continue reading their books and notes, and I was keenly reminded of how I myself push the book trolley forcefully round the library, or tuck chairs meaningfully under desks, or turn off left-on power switches with the sharpest click I can, all to signal that it is almost closing time and people should start moving. I leave it for you to decide whether I have better success than Miss. Clovis and Miss. Lydgate!

The talk was preceded by lunch (and wine), and I was very intrigued by the offer of tuna and cucumber and sweetcorn sandwiches, as I have never had all three at once before! Then there was tea/coffee and cake, and then the main event began. I had worried that my lack of Pym-related knowledge might prove a hindrance, but since the talk ended up being more about Miss. Marple than anything else I managed to follow it very easily, being a prodigious Agatha Christie fan.

The other boon of the day is that I’ve come away with a list of everyone who was there, and I must admit to having a fondness for lists of names. I like to look at them and choose my favourites, and imagine the sort of people that might be called those names in a novel. The best for that sort of thing are the big wooden boards of Honours/Scholarships, or Prefects/Head Boys and Girls, that you get in posh schools, where the names are all done in gold. I’m not sure what sort of sentiments Naomi Rebis conveys – it’s not really possible to objectively contemplate your own name!

So it is not all work in London, even if I am currently in the midst of funding applications for my Masters at UCL! Excited to tell you all about my upcoming archive visit soon!

Naomi x

  1. Less than Angels by Barbara Pym; Virago Press (2010) p.5

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