Crampton Hodnet

It was an excellent thing for a husband to have something like research to occupy his time. After the first year or two of married life one no longer wanted to have him continually about the house. Mrs. Cleveland hardly noticed now whether her husband was there or not, and she was too busy doing other things ever to stop and ask herself whether she was not perhaps missing something. The best she could say of Francis was that he gave her no trouble, and she thought that that was a great deal more than could be said of many husbands.

‘He is a really gifted preacher, such a command of language. And those quotations were really quite obscure. Anyone can see that he is a very well-read man.’ No doubt he would appear so to one who read nothing but Tennyson, thought Miss Morrow.

Barbara Pym began working on what she called her ‘North Oxford novel’ in 1939. After the Second World War, she read it again and revised it but decided it was dated, so she put it to one side and completed Some Tame Gazelle instead. Crampton Hodnet remained unpublished at Pym’s death in 1980, and appeared posthumously in 1985, by which time it had acquired a period charm.

Funnier and less introspective than her later novels, it is nevertheless full of trenchant observations and memorable characters. Pym captures to perfection the atmosphere of North Oxford in the 1930s. The abortive romance between the downtrodden lady’s companion Jessie Morrow and the self-satisfied curate Stephen Latimer is echoed in the equally unfulfilled relationship of idealistic Oxford student Barbara Bird and her married tutor, Francis Cleveland.