The Novelist as Anthropologist

  • Muriel Schulz


Her work with the International African Institute provided Barbara Pym with comic material both for her own amusement and for her novels. She delighted in recording from anthropological tracts and working into her novels such ludicrous phrases as (in Less than Angels) ‘The hyaenas have stolen the beer-strainers of the bad sons of the good women’ (p. 243). In her fiction she speculated — sometimes wickedly — on possible relationships between anthropologists and their subjects. Has studying the Pygmies perhaps made Tyrell Todd petty and small-minded? Is it coincidental that Professor Fairfax, who has studied a tribe engaged in head-shrinking in Less than Angels, should himself have ‘a rather shrunken-looking head’? (p. 8). Is it inevitable that Tom Mallow, raised by his mother and her brother, should study the role of the mother’s brother in an African tribe? In the novels she could make jokes about anthropologists which would have been considered tactless at the Institute. ‘I wonder if the study of societies where polygamy is a commonplace encourages immorality?’ Rockingham Napier says in Excellent Women. ‘Do anthropologists tend to have many wives at the same time?’ he asks his wife and Everard Bone, who are not amused (p. 97).


Learn Society Intense Feeling Alien Culture Primitive People English Culture 
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  1. 1.
    Diane Lewis, ‘Anthropology and Colonialism’, Current Anthropology, XIV (1973) 581–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Derek Freeman, Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making of an Anthropological Myth (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
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    Claude Lévi-Strauss, ‘Anthropology: Its Achievement and Future’, Current Anthropology, VII (1966) 124–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Dale Salwak 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Muriel Schulz

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