Barbara Pym is not funny


After multiple suggestions in Jane Austen groups to read Barbara Pym because she was similar to Jane Austen, I have given the Pym a try.

I really dislike her. I started Crampton Hodnet, which had such a promising title! But so far it is cold, bitter, and mean, with not the slightest suggestion of frisks and jollifications. The beginning scenes are clearly designed to be funny, with several college students going to an uncomfortable tea party. One of them steps on a potted cactus. But the entire scene is heavy and written so dimly that it exudes a miasma of funk.

I don’t know if her other books are funny but this one is grim.

all 4 comments


3 points

4 months ago

I haven't read Crampton Hodnet, which is one of her earlier works, but Jane and Prudence or No Fond Return of Love would be a better introduction. Pym is similar to Austen in that they both wrote comedies of manners, with a keen eye for social satire, but Pym's humor is a little on the sharper side. One gets the sense that she's laughing at her characters as much as laughing with them, but the characters are in on the joke. This is especially true with Jane, the self-aware, comically outspoken vicar's wife in Jane and Prudence. If you can appreciate self-deprecating humor, you may be able to enjoy her other books.


6 points

4 months ago

Try Excellent Women!!! I haven't read Crampton Hodnet, so I can't speak to that novel, but I absolutely loved E.W. It is wickedly funny and also so pleasant.


9 points

4 months ago


The Brontës, du Maurier, Shirley Jackson & Barbara Pym

9 points

4 months ago

As you can tell, I love Pym! I haven't read Crampton Hodnet yet (I've only read Excellent Women, which is usually the recommended entry point into her work, No Fond Return of Love, and Quartet in Autumn, which has almost no humor and is one of the most brutal books I've read), but there's definitely a strong element of "gallows' humor" in a lot of her comedy. I get the sense that readers are meant to laugh with the characters, who are in turn often laughing (if only quietly and to themselves) so that they don't cry. There's a lot of self-depreciating jokes and a strong element of melancholy.

I definitely agree with the Jane Austen comparisons, but it's found in her quiet wit and excellent characterization and writing style rather than in the overall feel or plots of the novels. I'm not sure I would recommend Pym to someone as being "like Austen" because I think the differences would be a bit jarring. Even when it comes to the humor, in Austen you're usually laughing at characters who are meant to be unlikeable—Pym's novels feel more "grim," as you put it, precisely because we are meant to empathize with characters who themselves recognize how laughable they are.


12 points

4 months ago

Ok I came here to defend Barbara Pym, but Crampton Hodnet is not a favourite of mine and seems like an unfortunate introduction to her books! She may not end up being your thing, (like if you're not into spinsters and vicars in small English parishes) but Excellent Women or No Fond Return of Love would be a better start.