Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Barbara Pym

English novelist Barbara Pym (June 2, 1913 - January 11, 1980) never wrote any hymn texts, as far as I know. I suspect that she could have written a reasonable pastiche of a Victorian text, but it probably would have had at least an ironic, if not satiric slant.

I do believe that she was a lover of hymns; certainly she knew many hymns and liberally sprinkled quoted lines from them through many of her novels. She often writes about women whose lives revolve in some way around the Anglican church, the volunteers whose work helps to keep the place running, or who attach themselves to somewhat befuddled clergymen who are mostly helpless at managing the practical side of life.

These women know other verse; they can quote the great English poets like
Pope or Matthew Arnold when they lapse into romantic fantasy or dreams of the future, but they come back to hymns when thinking about their everyday lives. The references are usually slightly awkward or inappropriate, but who can't understand how that works?

From Some Tame Gazelle (1950):

...Belinda looked down at her prayer book and concentrated on Keble's fine lines

Through sleep and darkness safely brought
Restored to life and power and thought

Not that she ever thought of herself as having much power, but she was certainly alive and might be considered capable of a certain amount of thought. She could at least thank God for that.

From A Glass of Blessings (1958)

There was no doubt that Father Ransome had his following in the parish. His good looks amply compensated for his shortcomings in the pulpit -- for he was an uninspired preacher -- and young girls could be seen struggling to suppress their giggles when we sang such lines as

And when earthly things are past
Bring our ransomed souls at last

in the best known of the Epiphany hymns.

And, from Less Than Angels (1955)

"You know that hymn," said Mabel

O'er heathen lands afar
Thick darkness broodeth yet

"I expect that's why the darkness is so thick, because our dear Father Tulliver hasn't had a chance to dispel it," burst out Rhoda impulsively.

Pym's novels are probably not for everyone, but it's fun to stumble upon her hymn references.

1 comment:

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Interesting post. I always love hymns about "heathen lands afar" and the darkness they wallow in. lol

She sounds like she could have written some rip-snorting hymn parodies!

Leland aka Haruo