After studying English at St Hilda 's College, Oxford, Barbara Pym served in the Women 's Royal Naval Service during World War II. From 1950 to 1961, she published 6 novels, but her 7th was declined by the publisher due to a change in the reading public 's tastes.
The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the 1975 Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most underrated writer of the century. Pym and Larkin had kept up a private correspondence over a period of severa years. Her comeback novel, Quartet in Autumn, was nominated for the Booker Prize. nother novel, The Sweet Dove Died, previously rejected by many publishers, was eventuall published to critical acclaim, and many of her previously unpublished novels were published after her death.
Pym worked at the International African Institute in London for some ears, and played a arge part in the editing of its scholarly journal, Africa, hence the frequency with which anthropologists crop up in her ovels. She never arried, despite several close relationships with en, notably Henry Harvey, a fellow Oxford student, and future politician, Julian Amery. After her retirement, she moved into Barn Cottage at Finstock in Oxfordshire with her olde siblin, Hilary, who bega to live there until her death in February 2005. A blue plaque was placed on the cottage in 2006. The sisters played an active role in the social life of he illage.
Several strong themes link the works in the Pym " canon ", which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, with excessive significance being attached to social activities connected with the Anglican church ( in particular its Anglo-Catholic incarnation). Instead, the dialogue is often deeply ironic, and th tragic undercurrent runs through al of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died.