No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym

published 1961  chapter 20

‘Mrs Forbes is my husband’s mother,’ said Marjorie…

‘Oh then Eagle House must be a very special place for you,’ said Dulcie, much too gushingly in her nervousness. It seemed so odd to think of Aylwin being the husband of this dim young woman in the pale blue wool dress, with a single string of pearls and diamante flower spray brooch. She seemed so totally unsuitable. Was it Aylwin’s father coming out in him, she wondered. And yet Mrs Forbes, even if she had been beneath him socially, was so much a personality in her own right. What was the explanation? Dulcie supposed that, for some reason or other, he must have fallen in love with her; it was as simple as that.

The four ladies parted with mutual expressions of goodwill.

‘I expect we’ll be seeing you about the place,’ Marjorie said.

observations: Easter week in the West Country c. 1960.

Dulcie and her friend Viola – they have hooked up, and live together, because they are both single and have vaguely similar interests, but don’t seem to like each other much – are basically stalking a man they are interested in, Aylwin Forbes. They have travelled a considerable distance to stay in the small and rather ghastly private hotel owned by his mother. They assume he won’t be there, but that they can find out more about him. Then they are lucky enough to meet his wife, who interests them greatly. There’s a kind of mad logic about this: it is so extreme, so ridiculous, that the outcome – their target Aylwin does turn up after all – seems too much like an ordinary novel.

Not only that, but in fact Dulcie has already met Marjorie and her mother, by gatecrashing a church fund-raising event in their house, giving a false name - all part of her research into what she jovially calls her victims.

The two women could be quite scary in another context. And, in the nicest possible way, Barbara Pym herself seems exactly someone who would track down a chance acquaintance’s mother, or even mother-in-law, and go and visit her.

Although Easter is seen as key to the women’s initial plans for a bit of light chasing (they stay in another, very Christian, B&B where ‘Easter is our speciality’, and they are checking if people eat meat on Good Friday) that rather fades away.

Strangely, when Dulcie gives a dinner party she says she will wear black, although
I suppose in a way I’m the powder-blue wool type, with a single string of graduated pearls

-- so she shouldn’t really be rude about anyone else.

Links on the blog: Barbara Pym’s Excellent Woman Mildred featured last year with Helena, the racy wearer of trousers.

Picture is a 1962 illo from the wonderful Vivat vintage tumblr. It is surely to go with a short story – she is not sitting by that telephone for no reason. Neither stories nor this kind of illustration seem to exist these days.


  1. Moira - Oh, this sounds interesting. Just the interplay between Dulcie and Viola sounds intriguing. And you're quite right; that 'photo seems like a very interesting accompaniment to a short story...

  2. I'm sre I've read this book Moira but it must have been years ago as I can't really remember the plot now. Lovely picture as usual.


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