Sunday, March 17, 2013

Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym

The nicest thing about reading a Barbara Pym novel is that everyone is so sensible...even when they fall in love. Oh, a character might lose his or her senses for a moment and briefly make a rash decision, but a cool head reigns as rational thoughts creep in to turn what could become a scandalous situation into one that never quite becomes as daring as one might think.

With all the would-be lovers, and in Crampton Hodnet there are so many (who knew that North Oxford was such a hotbed of romance?), it is such a pleasure to watch Ms. Pym's characters fall in and out of love without having to read protracted descriptions of thrashing among the bedclothes as one might find in current novels. The most the reader gets is a chaste peck on the cheek, a touch on the arm, a whispered "I love you" in the middle of the British Museum. 

A distinguished married don develops a crush on a beautiful undergraduate; a handsome curate proposes marriage to someone he 'esteems and respects' but does not love; a young man with aspirations of becoming Prime Minister doesn't quite feel the same intense passion for a young woman as she does for him. 

Of course there are the nosy, gossipy women, and men too, who love to stir up things that really don't need to be stirred up. But then what else is one to talk about over the endless cups of tea?

All the action here takes place within a year - from October to October - so we see the seasons change and see the changes that the seasons bring not only to the gardens of Oxford but its residents as well.

This book was written about 1940 but wasn't published until 1985 after Ms. Pym's death. Crampton Hodnet is the name of a fictitious village mentioned in the book although no action takes place there. Actually, Hodnet is a real village in the county of Shropshire where Ms. Pym was born and Crampton is her middle name. 

Being with the witty Ms. Pym and her astute observations on love, marriage, and attitudes toward a variety of things from the carelessness of servants to the intrusiveness of fellow train passengers, is a splendid way to spend a snowy, wet Sunday afternoon. Or any afternoon for that matter. Just be sure you have the kettle on.


  1. I had the good fortune of finding an American first edition of this on a used book cart at church. I think that it is one of her funniest novels. It helped me to more fully appreciate Jessie Morrow, whom I had met in "Jane and Prudence."

    1. I had read a couple of Ms. Pym's books ages ago but don't think I had quite the same appreciation as I do after reading "Crampton Hodnet" and "A Glass of Blessings". What a treat! I am on the prowl now for others to add to my slim collection. I really like the art nouveau covers, too.

  2. Belle, I don't think I've read this one! The plot sounds familiar, but they are ALL familiar, what with the dons and curates. I must put this on my TBR. It's sunny but cold, a good day for Barbara Pym.

    1. This certainly was a funny one. Hope you can find a copy to enjoy.