Dress Down Sunday: Barbara Pym Centenary

No Fond Return of Love

published 1951  chapter 15


[Dulcie and Viola are walking for the bus after going to church]

‘That man there, arranging things in that shop window,’ Viola [said]. ‘He’s smiling at you. Do you know him?... What’s he doing in a shop window at this time of night?’

‘Oh he’s the knitwear buyer for this chain of shops. I suppose he’s arranging the window ready for Monday morning.’

The dapper shirt-sleeved figure of Bill Sedge carrying a bough of artificial cherry blossom, now appeared in the shop doorway. [He offers to take them for coffee, and goes to get his coat]

‘Just look at those petticoats,’ said Viola self-consciously, as they waited by the shop window, ‘all those frills and frou-frou – not quite us somehow.’

‘A New Temptation,’ Dulcie read from a card fixed to a black lace strapless brassiere. ‘For whom, one wonders.’

‘Perhaps we ought to be looking at Mr Sedge’s knitewear,’ said Viola, going to the other side of the window, ‘that will be more suitable.’

observations: Should be read with this entry. The centenary of Barbara Pym's birth is being celebrated this month.

Dulcie and Viola, with their intense curiosity about people, and in the hopes of a ‘rich evening’ of discovery, have gone to the church of Neville Forbes – just because he is the brother of the person they are really interested in. They have earlier followed a complete stranger in the street because they think he might be Nev. (Both brothers obviously have a great ability to attract women.) Now at least Viola will be somewhat distracted by the window-dresser, though still happy enough to go on an expedition to the West Country to meet more of the family – the Forbes brothers’ mother makes a priceless remark about Nev wearing his cassock:

I suppose it saves your other clothes – like wearing an overall
When people say Barbara Pym is like Jane Austen you want to ask them if they’ve actually read Jane Austen, or if they think all single women who write novels must be the same. Barbara Pym is wonderful, but not in a Jane Austen kind of way.

Not a great deal happened in Pym’s life (in that respect she is like Austen), apart from some unresolved and unsatisfactory love affairs, and a job that she seemed to enjoy – but her diaries, letters and biography make for unexpectedly riveting reading. As we said in the previous entry, Dulcie’s ‘researches’ aren’t much of an exaggeration from her own activities.

Links on the blog: Dulcie’s neighbour is very keen on getting everything delivered from Harrods – just like one of the residents at the Hotel du Lac. Pym's Excellent Women is here.

The photograph of a shop display is from the State Library of New South Wales.