Less Than Angels

      The subject of Miss Clovis’s quarrel with the President was known only to a privileged few and even those knew no more than that it had something to do with the making of tea. Not that the making of tea can ever really be regarded as a petty or trivial matter and Miss Clovis did seem to have been seriously at fault. Hot water from the tap had been used, the kettle had not been quite boiling, the teapot had not been warmed… whatever the details, there had been words, during the course of which other things had come out, things of a darker nature. Voices had been raised and in the end Miss Clovis felt bound to hand in her resignation.

      ‘After all, life isn’t really so unpleasant as some writer make out, is it?’ she added hopefully.
      ‘No, perhaps not.  It’s comic and sad and indefinite – dull, sometimes, but seldom really tragic or deliriously happy, except when one’s very young.’

‘After the war, I got a job at the International African Institute in London. I was mostly engaged in editorial work, smoothing out the written results of other people’s researches, but I learned more than that in the process. I learned how it was possible and even essential to cultivate an attitude of detachment towards life and people, and how the novelist could even do “field-work” as the anthropologist did. And I also met a great many people of a type I hadn’t met before. The result of all this was a novel called Less Than Angels, which is about anthropologists working at a research centre in London, and also the suburban background of Deirdre, one of the heroines, and her life with her mother and aunt. There’s a little church life in it too, so that it could be said to be a mixture of all the worlds I had experience of.  I felt in this novel that I was breaking new ground by venturing into the academic scene.’  –Barbara Pym, “Finding a Voice” (1978 BBC radio talk)