#CBR7 Review #62: An Academic Question by Barbara Pym

Hey, look, another Barbara Pym review from me! I clearly went overboard two library trips ago. Or was it three? I don’t know. I have such a HUGE STACK that I need to get through that the books are starting to blur together. Gah. I really want to up my reading game, but now that the weather is so nice, everyone wants to get together. Oh, well. It’s very Pym-ish to be doing things with people. 🙂

This time, An Academic Question turns its focus in on academia. Having just read The British Museum is Falling Down, I enjoy novels that parody the goofy or silly things related to the academic realm. Caroline Grimstone is the wife of a lecturer at a small university. She is growing restless and bored with the provincialism and her limited role in life. Her daughter is basically being raised by an au pair, and she has no real career. She takes up reading to the elderly at the local nursing home, and in her friendship with a missionary, she discovers a set of papers that relate to her husband’s research. What ensues is a thriller and cat-and-mouse game that accurately reflects academic rivalry and posturing.

Because I am an academic, I found the rivalry between Alan Grimstone and Crispin Maynard interesting, amusing, and true-to-life. There is definitely a get-ahead mentality that exists within a lot of academics. Or, if not the desire to get ahead, the fear of being left behind. I know that when I was writing my dissertation, I would periodically scour the databases to make sure that I was aware of the latest research written about each of my primary texts and that my ideas would not be stolen.

Beyond that, Pym admirably skewers the sexism associated with female careers. The women in the novel have little choice, except to serve as husbands’ typists, work other menial jobs, or be mothers. Through Caro’s dissatisfaction, Pym gently suggests that perhaps a woman might indeed want a better life than the limited one which she is given and expected to find fulfilling. It’s the reason why I keep reading Pym novels.


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