Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym
My recent trip to my local, public library yielded quite a stack of books. I’m working my way through them and pleased to say I found some gems. As mentioned earlier, I had let my card lapse – it is in a neighboring town and costs me $80/year. But the fact that I can now get ebooks from there sent directly to my kindle caused me to recently renew. And my foray into the stacks this month reminded me of how many treasures reside there. Lots of Jane Haddam, Louise Penny, and Laura Lippman (recommended by Mary, a regular subscriber and reader and commenter on my blog), lots of Barbara Pym, etc. etc. Not a surprise to many of you who enjoy great local libraries. I had been a regular user of this library for a long time, even while I’d had to pay after I moved, but it has been a couple years since I spent time in their fiction stacks and, to some degree, my tastes have changed, so it was fun to see how much I can get there that I now like.
#128 Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym
One of the authors that I’ve liked for awhile is Barbara Pym, but I’d forgotten what a nice selection of her books this library has.
I’m beginning to think I could happily read just British novelists, particularly women, for the rest of my life, not missing those by folks in other countries. What a rich literary tradition! Especially for such a small country.
I’d actually read this book some years ago, but I only remembered that as I started rereading it. Started in the late 1930’s but not published until after her 1980 death, it is the story of Miss Morrow, paid, young “spinster” companion to Miss Doggett, a woman of a “certain age.” They live together in Leamington Lodge in North Oxford where they spend their time attending church, dining with friends, and hosting Oxford University undergraduates, university dons, and local Anglican ministers (curates, vicars, deacons, and the like) at tea.
Then Mr Latimer, a new and handsome curate, comes to work with Mr Wardell, the local vicar, and takes lodging in Miss Doggett’s house. Gentle adventures ensue involving spinsters, undergraduates, dons, and curates.
I loved this book! Pym writes so beautifully and with such great humor. She engages us in the seasonal shifts in temperament, dresses, and outings along with the ongoing not so gentle engagement in other people’s affairs. From the snotty, probably gay, undergraduates who accept Miss Doggett’s invitations to tea (which sniggering comments under their breath to each other) to the elaborate descriptions of food and decoration to the breathless relay of gossip (was that Mr. Cleveland (Oxford don) expressing his love for his pretty, young student, Barbara Bird, in an alcove of the British Museum with the Middle English mansucripts? Or was it in the Bodleian Library?) she immerses us in the people and place of North Oxford.
All of Pym’s books are about the same length – around 200 pages – so she quickly and deftly brings us into a world of another type and time and helps us understand how the people think, what they care for and what they long for. I found myself imagining this book as a movie or BBC Masterpiece Theatre show (it may have been, I don’t know). If you are looking for something enjoyable to read over tea under a lap blanket as you avoid the season’s bluster, any of Barbara Pym’s books are a wonderful choice and Crampton Hodnet is probably one of her funniest.
Happy Reading! Ruby