High Church Comedy

  • Janice Rossen


As a chronicler of parish life in 1950s England, Barbara Pym stands unrivalled. Not since Anthony Trollope’s Barchester novels about Victorian England has the Anglican Church received such minute and detailed treatment in fiction. The recent resurgence of interest in Pym’s novels owes much to her recreation of a vanished upper-middle-class world, of which the church is an integral part. Each of her ten novels mentions the church in some connection, and several contain a clergyman as a major character and a vicarage and parish church as a setting. In a century in which satirisation of the church grows increasingly sharp and virulent, Pym’s mildness seems surprising. Compared to the bizarre picture of the clerical world found in the work of Evelyn Waugh or A. N. Wilson, her fiction strikes one as tolerant and genial — and perhaps suspiciously shallow as a result.


Village Doctor Fictional World Parish Church Heating Apparatus Church Building 
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  1. 2.
    Karl Miller, ‘Ladies in Distress’, New York Review of Books, 25 (9 November 1978) 24.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Robert Smith, ‘How Pleasant to Know Miss Pym’, Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, 2 (1971) 68.Google Scholar
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    Father Thames’s statue represents High Church leanings towards aestheticism. Altick points out that the Oxford Movement contributed to ritualism: ‘Through its religious associations sensuous beauty eventually gained a place in the scale of Victorian values more or less comparable to that which it had had among the romantics’ (Richard Altick, Victorian People and Ideas (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1973) p. 217).Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    W. H. Carnegie, Anglicanism: An Introduction to its History and Philosophy (London: G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1925) p. 91.Google Scholar
  5. 19.
    Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset (Oxford University Press, 1980) p. 103.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Janice Adelle Rossen 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janice Rossen

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