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.
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