The Sweet Dove Died

     The sight of such large and faultless blooms, so exquisite in colour, so absolutely correct in all their finer points, was a comfort and satisfaction to one who loved perfection as she did.  Yet, when one came to think of it, the only flowers that were really perfect were those, like the peonies that went so well with one’s charming room, that had the added grace of having been presented to oneself.

      He is going to kiss me, Leonora thought in sudden panic, pray heaven no more than that….  One couldn’t lose one’s dignity, of course, Leonora told herself, for after all one wasn’t exactly a young girl.  Surely freedom from this sort of thing was among the compensations of advancing age and the sad decay of one’s beauty; one really ought not to be having to fend people off any more.

Considered from a purely aesthetic point of view, The Sweet Dove Died is the most brilliant success of Barbara Pym’s career.  It lacks the geniality and fun of her earlier works, but is written with a tense economy that generates greater force than the rather relaxed storytelling of its immediate predecessors…. Built on a series of love triangles, the plot of The Sweet Dove Died represents tangled and mismatched loves with great conciseness and richness of implication.  The greatest achievement of all in The Sweet Dove Died is its remarkable heroine: cold, elegant Leonora Eyre, incapable of passion but capable of heartbreak, strong-willed but finally miserable and helpless in her self-absorption.  –Mason Cooley, ‘The Sweet Dove Died: The Sexual Politics of Narcissism’ in Twentieth Century Literature 32(1):40-49 (1986)