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Barbara Pym (1913–1980)

Author of Excellent Women

Includes the names: Pym Barbara, Bárbara Pym, Bárbara Pym

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Short biography
Barbara Mary Crampton Pym was born to Frederic and Irena Pym on June 2, 1913, in the town of Oswestry, Shropshire, on the Welsh border. Since Irena Pym was assistant organist at the parish church of St. Oswald, entertaining vicars and curates became part of Pym family life. In 1931, Barbara entered St. Hilda's College at Oxford, where she read English literature. She then returned to Oswestry where she began writing novels, but without initial success. When war overtook Europe in 1940, Barbara was assigned to the Censorship office at Bristol and decided to join the Wrens (Women's Royal Naval Service). In 1944, she was posted to Naples until the end of the war. After the war, Barbara took a job at the International African Institute in London, and soon became the assistant editor for the journal Africa. Her career as a published writer was then launched. Two years after her modest success as a writer, in 1963, Barbara submitted An Unsuitable Attachment to Jonathan Cape, her publisher; it was rejected as being out of step with the times. In all, twenty publishers refused to publish her latest novel. But despite the bleak future, she continued to write. In 1971 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy; in 1974 she suffered a minor stroke. She then retired from the Institute and went to live with her sister Hilary at her cottage in Finstock, Oxfordshire. In the January 21,1977 issue of the Times Literary Supplement, Barbara Pym was twice named (by Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil) as "the most underrated novelist of the century." She emerged from "the wilderness" after sixteen years of obscurity, to almost instant fame and recognition. Only two years after her rediscovery, her cancer returned and this time, treatments were unsuccessful. She died at the Michael Sobell House, a hospice in Oxford, on January 11, 1980. She is buried in the churchyard at Finstock.
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