#CBR7 Review #94: Civil to Strangers and Other Writings by Barbara Pym

In the spirit of completism, I airily decided that my Barbara Pym experience would not be perfect unless I’d read everything. Normally, I’m not so bonkers for an author that I’ll also read their unpublished work, but Pym is a special case. Having read her diary/autobiography, I found the unpublished work to be especially enjoyable and interesting.

Civil to Strangers is a collection of Barbara Pym’s unpublished work, including several novels or partial novels that Pym had worked on and either could not find a publisher for or abandoned to work on other pieces. Civil to Strangers documents the complexity of the relationship of a married couple, particularly once the first blush of romance and honeymoon has vanished. I rather enjoyed A Home Front Novel, because it gives a glimpse of the warfront in 1939, when the Second World War was threatening to strike. Pym also wrote a marriage comedy and a spy novel, and while neither was as sophisticated as the works she did eventually publish, they show a keen eye for comedy and social drama that she later integrated in her actual published works.

If you’re a Pym completist like me, then you’ll probably enjoy the glimpse into her mind. I’d actually recommend the autobiography first, since it shows her diary and the state-of-mind that she displayed while trying to get published. There’s an added dimension to the unpublished works when you understand the culture and attitude from whence they emerged. I greatly enjoyed this second jaunt into Pym’s mind, and I am eager to close my Pym experiment with Jane and Prudence, the novel that started it all.


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