Father Thames, in a splendid cloak clasped at the neck with gilt lions’ heads, hovered over me like a great bird….. He paused and gave me a most appealing look. I wondered whether many men, perhaps the clergy especially, went about cajoling or bullying women into being the answer to prayer. I supposed that the technique must often be successful.
Obviously, then, it was Mary and people like her who bought the trying electric blue or dingy olive green dress which had been reduced because nobody could wear it. And she probably gave the money she saved to the church or some charitable organization. And I bought as many clothes as I wanted in all the most becoming styles and colours, gave a little money to the church and none at all to charitable organizations. The contrast was an uncomfortable one and I did not wish to dwell on it.
A Glass of Blessings, first published in England in 1958, is one of [Barbara Pym’s] best. Its unlikely heroine, Wilmet Forsyth, is a civil servant’s neglected wife – he gives her bank deposits at Christmas. Wilmet is pretty, idle and fastidious, with a talent for flower arrangement and a penchant for daydreamy flirtations. After ‘my sheltered years at home and my brief spell of gaiety serving my country in the Wrens,’ she feels that her life has not been eventful: ‘I began to be ashamed of my lack of experience – I had not had a lover before I married, I had no children, I wasn’t even asked to clean the brasses or arrange the flowers in church.’
Wilmet’s main excitements in life are connected with her attendance at a High Anglican church. Her parish yields some unnerving surprises: a male cook in the clergy house with kleptomaniac impulses, and a potential lover who turns out to be homosexual. ‘Life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be,’ says Wilmet (‘rather frivolously,’ she tells us in an aside). ‘Sometimes you discover that you aren’t as nice as you thought you were – that you’re in fact rather a horrid person, and that’s humiliating somehow.’
Wilmet isn’t horrid, of course. She is observant beyond her emotional means. Pym’s unusual feat here is to enlist our interest in a heroine a more ambitious novelist would either discard as not worth writing about or subject to satirical scorn. Pym settles inside her, tenderly assumes her outlook and gives us entrance into a world we could not otherwise have fathomed. A Glass of Blessings is a magical novel.
– From a review by Walter Clemons in Newsweek, 14 April 1980, p. 96