Barbara Pym Centenary: Less than Angels

TalkVirago Modern Classics

Join LibraryThing to post.

Barbara Pym Centenary: Less than Angels

This topic is currently marked as "dormant"—the last message is more than 90 days old. You can revive it by posting a reply.

Mar 30, 2013, 3:32pm

Starting this thread a couple of days early, as you guessed it - I've started it already.

Mar 30, 2013, 4:48pm

One short book to finish and then I will be starting too...

Mar 30, 2013, 4:57pm

Ha ha; couldn't resist, could you? lol!~!

Mar 31, 2013, 8:12am

Mine is on my current reading pile, waiting to go!

Mar 31, 2013, 11:36am

Mine is also at the ready but just a few more Oranges....................

Mar 31, 2013, 12:38pm

Mine's next on the TBR but I'm doing my usual meander through the Saturday newspaper today. Might start it in bed this evening. I have the lovely edition with the library on the front cover, bought in 1994!

Mar 31, 2013, 11:20pm

Looking forward to it. IIRR it was one of the first of Barbara Pym's I read, 25 years ago (eep!). I'll probably get to it towards the end of the month.

Apr 1, 2013, 5:31am

*whispers* fiiiiiiiiiinished! : ) review tomorrow maybe.

Apr 2, 2013, 9:41am

I'll be starting this soon, once I dig it out of Mount Tbr.

Apr 2, 2013, 9:53am

Finished Jane and Prudence just in time and now I'm ready to start this one

Apr 2, 2013, 11:10am

I'm about half way through. The first chapter where all the anthropologists are at the party had me giggling away and I also liked the following quote from chapter 9, another reference to those excellent women:

"I'm not one of those excellent women, who can just go home and eat a boiled egg and make a cup of tea and be very splendid, she thought, but how very useful it would be if I were!"

Otherwise, I think it has a very different feel compared to the first three books although I'd struggle to put my finger on why I feel that. Perhaps it's the change of focus from clergy to anthropologists?

Apr 2, 2013, 8:28pm

I read all of Barabara Pym about 20 years ago and then donated my copies (to my local library?). I sincerely regret that decision. I love Barbara Pym's books. She created real feminist heroines, without the 'sturm and drang' . Her female characters know how to keep on keeping on, while other people (male and female) carry on. Their lives are composed of the every day mundanity that happens all the time in the 'real world', yet somehow, I can remember all of her 'excellent women'. All I can say to those of you who are picking her up for the first time--enjoy!

Apr 3, 2013, 3:29am

JB, you should use the library and come back and do rereads with some of the rest of us. If no can do that, please feel free to jump in with comments at any time. We are here for the year of Pym and would love to have your input.

Apr 7, 2013, 5:20am

I'm not going to read Less than Angels this month but remember thoroughly enjoying it a few years back. I loved the anthropologists but found the central character's attitude to her relationship a bit unlikely.

Apr 7, 2013, 12:59pm

My review's here along with two more wonderful books - what a good start to April!

Apr 10, 2013, 5:01pm

Every now and then, as I'm reading in the evening, I have to stop and read a sentence out loud to my wife. These two sentences made her laugh so hard she could hardly breathe:

"It would be a reciprocal arrangement—the woman giving the food and shelter and doing some typing for him, and the man giving the priceless gift of himself." (Mark)

"Potatoes are OVAL or ROUND. Chips are RECTANGULAR. I don't see at all how it is done." (Miss Lydgate)

Barbara Pym's novels should come with an oxygen machine, in case of comedic emergency.

Apr 11, 2013, 4:48am

There are so many good lines in this book that if I were to underline them all, less than half the book would be unmarked!

I loved the scene where Digby and Mark take Miss Clovis and Miss Lydgate out for lunch and try to choose the cheapest items on the menus for themselves.

Apr 12, 2013, 6:40am

I'm only about 50 pages in so far, but enjoying it very much - so many funny comments and observations!

The name Deirdre Swan seems very familiar to me; I don't think she has appeared in one of the ones we've already read this year, does she? Perhaps she features again in one of the later books which I've read in the past, or perhaps I'm just imagining things?

Apr 12, 2013, 6:59am

I noticed a reference to Everard Bone of Excellent Women and the women in his life again. Reading Pym's oeuvre in this way is working really well for me, as did reading E Taylor's writing last year. I've liked the two books I've reread so far more on the second reading than the first, and I really feel that there's a cumulative gain in enjoyment.

Apr 12, 2013, 8:47am

I adored this book, but I know I was rushing through it to find out what happened and missed some of the subtleties. Oh well, I'll just have to reread it!

Apr 12, 2013, 5:39pm

Oh Claire, that will be such a tragedy to have to reread it. ;-)

Apr 13, 2013, 9:23am

Starting my somewhat battered copy of Less Than Angels. I shall have to read it at home. If I try to take it anywhere it may finally fall apart.

Apr 15, 2013, 8:51am

My review of Less Than Angels:

Lives and loves of anthropology students, anthropologists, and their friends and families.

The book mainly centres round first year anthropology student Deirdre Swan's crush on anthropologist Tom Mallow, and his response, breaking up with his girlfriend, women's magazine writer Catherine Oliphant. We also catch up with Miss Clovis, Everard and Mildred Bone, Miss Jessop, and Everard's mother.

Favourite quotes:

"There are few things more disconcerting or even upsetting for a regular worshipper at a church which is not normally very full than to find his usual seat occupied by somebody else."

"Things were said on both sides which might be regretted afterwards, and both felt the perverse satisfaction which is to be got from saying things of precisely that kind. It is very seldom that we can tell our friends exactly what we think of them; for some the occasion never presents itself, and they are perhaps the poorer for not having experienced the exultation of flinging the buried resentment and the usually irrelevant insult at a dear friend."

Apr 15, 2013, 12:23pm

I am fairly well into the book and am finding that I am just not sure about this one. For me, at least so far, it just doesn't ring of Pym. Doesn't have the feel of her others that I have read but perhaps I simply am not far enough in to begin appreciating it. Hoping that to be the case.

Apr 15, 2013, 7:55pm

Well, there is a noticeable lack of curates ;-)

Apr 15, 2013, 10:18pm

This was one of the few Pyms I didn't read last year, and I have to say it's not one of my favorites. Lots of good lines, but not a very compelling story. The lack of a specific protagonist didn't work for me, either--too many story lines and viewpoints to follow.

Apr 16, 2013, 3:35am

I finished last night and am trying to get my head round a review, but I think I agree - it was quite downbeat and not so coherent as the first three. I still liked it but it's a different kind of book.

Apr 20, 2013, 9:32am

Review here:

I didn't *not like* the book but it's the one of hers I haven't warmed to so much - didn't hang together enough for me.

Apr 20, 2013, 2:12pm

My reactions are a little different from most of you: I think I enjoyed this one more than all the others so far. I have some thoughts on why, but no time to write more at present. But in 48 hours I'll have stopped working, so I hope to come back with some thoughts soon!

Apr 20, 2013, 9:49pm

I completed Less Than Angels last evening and came away from it with mixed thoughts and emotions. I don't feel that it was one of Pym's best, though I liked it. This is the first of hers that I have felt as if I needed to 'make' myself pick it to continue the read. There was a lot in it that I enjoyed, like all of the 'name dropping', etc., but I think that I didn't care for the fact that there were so many young persons in the book. For me it didn't fit the Pym 'formula'.
I will throw my review up later when I have had more time to wrap my brain around what I have read.

Apr 21, 2013, 12:07am

I rather liked some of the things that were different about this one - the young people and the look at different lifestyles, such as people living together rather than being single or married.

Apr 21, 2013, 2:29am

I really enjoyed the library and anthropology stuff and the changing mores of the time. BUT I think I first came to Pym through one of these style ones rather than a spinsters-in-a-village, and I wonder if the ones you start with colour your opinion of the other type, even though I hadn't considered that there were two types up to now!

Apr 21, 2013, 5:41am

32: I think you may be right - my readings of Virginia Woolf are always coloured by the fact that I read Mrs. Dalloway first and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread! But even allowing for that, I still found that this didn't hang together enough - it was just a bit all over the place plot-wise.

Edited: Apr 21, 2013, 4:53pm

I have to agree with Karen on this one Liz, though I am sure that I did go into it with the expectation of middle-aged spinsters, sisters, curates, etc. But I just found it to be a bit disjointed.
Ah, the marvel of diversity here on L.T. So thankful that when I come home it is never to a boring place.

Apr 22, 2013, 8:34am

Another reader who really enjoyed this one. I liked the students, especially Digby and Mark, and Pym's treatment of everyday life in middle England as being as worthy of anthopological study as the tribes in darkest Africa. I also liked the way she showed Catherine and Deirdre realising that life goes on, and moving forward by the end of the book.

Apr 24, 2013, 3:03am

**Spoiler Alert**if you haven't finished the book, skip this!

I also enjoyed this book, perhaps more than any Pym I've read so far. I was immediately drawn in by the younger people that she portrayed, and how she juxtaposed them against the older ones.

But as I finished the book, what was most interesting to me were the thoughts on writers vs. anthropologists--on the different ways of observing human behavior, and what (& how) writers see differently than scientists. And how each feels somewhat superior to the other. And at the end, I think Pym is saying that a writer (Catherine/Pym) can be just as dispassionate, or clinical, if you will, as an anthropologist, and yet still get to the heart of human relationships, something that "good" anthropologists aren't supposed to do. Tom fails in this in the end, when he disappoints his colleagues by "getting involved." And I loved when Lydgate burns his notes and considers writing a novel. Great stuff.

Apr 24, 2013, 2:16pm

I'm kind of limping to the end of this one. Parts of it have been laugh-out-loud funny, others have left me cold. I've noticed in the past that Pym will often change scenes very abruptly. This hasn't bothered me in her previous novels, but there were parts of this novel (like chapter 17, which begins with Mark and Digby in their apartment and ends with Catherine coming out of a church) that almost gave me whiplash. I also never warmed to either Catherine or Dierdre. Dierdre seems a bit one-dimensional in her mooning over Tom, and Catherine seems to have been constructed out of eccentricities leftover from other Pym characters. A great supporting cast (Mark and Digby, Miss Lydgate, Aunt Rhoda, Alaric Lydgate), but weaker leads.

Apr 24, 2013, 3:32pm

37: Great point that:

"A great supporting cast (Mark and Digby, Miss Lydgate, Aunt Rhoda, Alaric Lydgate), but weaker leads."

I definitely thought that!

Edited: Apr 24, 2013, 4:48pm

>37 rbhardy3rd: & 38:
Rob & Karen; I definitely agree with the both of you.
I loved the characters of Catherine & Lydgate together though I didn't care for her so much regarding Tom, especially in the beginning. I loved the burning of the notes too kac! If fact, it may have made the book for me. All in all I just thought it rather disjointed and it felt like an experiment in writing to me.

Apr 25, 2013, 6:45pm

OK I finished and was disappointed in this one. I really had to plug along to get to the end of it. I just had no interest in picking up the book. Anyway here is my review.

May 1, 2013, 7:27pm

"There are few things more disconcerting or even upsetting for a regular worshipper at a church which is not normally very full than to find his usual seat occupied by somebody else."

How to avoid this:

May 2, 2013, 1:45am

Now that is just creepy Robert. I can't even imagine................

May 3, 2013, 4:33pm

I'm a little late in finishing this one, but once again Pym takes a very narrow slice of humanity and pulls us into their day to day lives. The characters are alternatingly very insightful and totally obtuse, hilarious and sad, serene and distraught. And while a welcome change from the vicarage, she continued many of the same themes including the changing roles of women, but still the constant concern about their marital prospects. I also liked that this one was a bit more risque with the various love affairs.

May 3, 2013, 4:41pm

>41 Robertgreaves: That is hysterical.

May 16, 2013, 12:52pm

Is there a thread for A Glass of Blessings?