Friday, June 7, 2013

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym


Some Tame Gazelle
by Barbara Pym
254 pages
first published in 1950
source: personal copy

Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It was odd that Harriet should always have been so fond of curates. They were so immature and always made the same kind of conversation. Now the Archdeacon was altogether different . . . ' Together yet alone, the Misses Bede occupy the central crossroads of parish life. Harriet, plump, elegant and jolly, likes nothing better than to make a fuss of new curates, secure in the knowledge that elderly Italian Count Ricardo Bianco will propose to her yet again this year. Belinda, meanwhile has harboured sober feelings of devotion towards Archdeacon Hochleve for thirty years. Then into their quiet, comfortable lives comes a famous librarian, Nathaniel Mold, and a bishop from Africa, Theodore Grote - who each take to calling on the sisters for rather more unsettling reasons.

My thoughts:
Barbara Pym's first published novel sets the stage for most of her later work. Her world is filled with middle-aged spinsters, church life, English villages, and the clergy. Pym is a keen observer of everyday life and presents it with quiet humor and dry wit.

As usual, she drew me in for the opening paragraph:
The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down. Belinda had noticed it when they had met him for the first time at the vicarage last week and had felt quite embarrassed. Perhaps Harriet could say something to him about it. Her blunt jolly manner could carry off these little awkwardnesses much better than Belinda's timidity. Of course he might think it none of their business, as indeed it was not, but Belinda rather doubted whether he thought at all, if one were to judge by the quality of his first sermon.
Pym always seems to include a few thoughts on fashion:
'Besides, high heels are definitely the fashion now.'
'Yes, I suppose they are,' agreed Belinda, for Harriet always knew things like that. And yet, she thought, at our age, surely all that was necessary was to dress suitably and if possible in good taste, without really thinking of fashion? With the years one ought to have grown beyond such thoughts but somehow one never did, and Belinda set out for the afternoon conscious that she was wearing dowdy shoes. (p.26)
And reflection on life in general:
Belinda put down her knitting and sat dreaming. Of course there was a certain pleasure in not doing something; it was impossible that one's high expectations should be disappointed by the reality. (p.84) 
'It's no use being sentimental about things,' said Harriet. 'You shouldn't keep a clutter of clothes you never wear just because you once liked them.'
Belinda made no comment on this, for she was thinking that Harriet's words might be applied to more serious things than clothes. If only one could clear out one's mind and heart as ruthlessly as one did one's wardrobe... (p. 221)
Food often takes center stage in Pym's world. Curates are invited to dinner, churches hold teas and bazaars, and menus require a good deal of discussion. In fact, there is even a Barbara Pym Cookbook.

Some Tame Gazelle  will forever stand out in my mind as the novel with the "cauliflower cheese incident".  In honor of Barbara Pym Reading Week, I experimented with my own version of a cauliflower cheese, but it turned out to be more of a baked cauliflower casserole. Probably not what the Misses Bede served to their seamstress...


I always enjoy time spent with Barbara Pym's novels. They have become my ideal comfort read, especially when served with a cup of tea.
Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:
Something to love, oh, something to love!

20 comments:

  1. I have never read any of her novels but you sure have me wanting to try one. They sound like comforting, enjoyable reads. I must try one soon.

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  2. I just looked up her books and she has lots! Do you have any that stand out that you'd recommend as trying first?

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    1. Darlene - Pym's books are sometimes hard to find, so you may not have much choice in where to begin. The only one I would NOT recommend starting with is Quartet in Autumn. It seems much darker and more depressing than her other novels. Some Tame Gazelle would be a good introduction to Pym because it is her first novel, but so would Excellent Women or Jane and Prudence.

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    2. Thanks JoAnn! Jane and Prudence sounds really good and it was available as an ebook so I picked it up.

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    3. Darlene - Oh, good! I hope you enjoy Pym :-)

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  3. It was interest to see the change in the kind of humor between STG and Excellent Women. I'm enjoying Jane and Prudence now, but I think STG might be my favorite of the three. I like the look of your cauliflower cheese (more than the look of your cauliflower with no cheese!) I had what I think might have been my first oyster yesterday, and was very glad it was cornmeal crusted (and fried) and not slithery.

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    1. Audrey - Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women are probably on the same level for me, with Jane and Prudence just a hair behind. The cauliflower dish was actually quite good, but probably not the same consistency a Pym Cauliflower Cheese should be.

      Oysters are a recently acquired taste. I tried one from my husband's plate a couple of years ago and now we often split an order (raw!) as an appetizer. They are a little slithery, but it's surprising how different the various varieties taste. Don't think I've tried them crusted and fried... yet.

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  4. I am anxiously waiting for my copy of this to arrive!

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    1. Lisa - I know you will enjoy Some Tame Gazelle!

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  5. Oh please, I have such an incorrect imagination - what the heck are these 'combinations showing; in carelessly tucked into socks'?!?!??! I hope Harriet DID tell the poor guy cuz I'm dying of curiosity.

    This sounds fun. I read Excellent Women so long ago.

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    1. Combinations were just long underwear (known to most children, I think, as "coms"). I think there's a suggestion here that the curate is rather old-fashioned in wearing them, but it's difficult because it's rather at the point when styles of men's underwear were changing, and some older men would still have been wearing them for preference. Of course, having your underwear showing definitely demonstrated the need for someone to care for you, but it's hardly the kind of thing a maiden lady could poijnt out to a young man!

      Aren't Pym's opening paragraphs wonderful!

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    2. Thanks, Geranium Cat. And Care, I actually googled 'combinations' and considered adding an image to my post ;-) Pym was a master of the art of opening paragraphs!

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  6. I adore the cover of this one as well as a few other Pyms that I've seen. However, when I look of various websites the softcover editions for sale have covers that seem rather blah...disappointing. You that I've whined a bit, I do love the sound of this one.

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    1. Diane - We readers can be quite particular when it comes to covers ;-)

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  7. This is a great novel, so funny and insightful. I do love how much Pym writes about clothes and style in her books.
    I had planned to make a cauliflower cheese this week, too, but just didn't get to it. The oven will not be turned on very much until October or so...

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    1. Anbolyn - I think the cauliflower cheese is more of a cool weather dish anyway. I'll probably experiment with a different recipe in the fall, too. Some Tame Gazelle was another wonderful Pym novel!

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  8. Such a comfort read! Love the idea of her writing and will most certainly read one this year!

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    1. Staci - Most definitely comfort reading - hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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  9. She's my new favourite author thanks to this reading week. I love the opening of STG - sets the scene perfectly. And now I know why everyone is so amused by mentions of cauliflower cheese.

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    1. Vicki - I always wondered why people associated cauliflower cheese with Pym, but Some Tame Gazelle finally gave me the answer ;-)

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