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Civil to Strangers by Barbara Pym

Civil to Strangers (1987)

by Barbara Pym

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3271250,131 (3.78)1 / 51



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English (11)  Italian (1)  All languages (12)
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
In the decade after Pym's untimely death - merely three years after she was "rediscovered" and rescued from 16 years languishing without a publisher -her sister Hilary and best friend Hazel Holt worked to cement the author's legacy. Lovely editions of all of her novels were printed on both sides of the Atlantic, societies sprung up, and all seemed assured. (Sadly, by the mid-'90s, it would be much harder to find a Pym novel, and it wouldn't really be until our age of eBooks that the situation was rectified!)

Civil to Strangers is one of four books of Pym addenda which accompany her 12 novels. The others - a biography entitled A Lot to Ask, a sort of autobiography cobbled together from Pym's letters and diaries, and a cookbook (yep) - are best left to the uber-fan, like myself. This one, however, is a collection of unfinished and unpublished pieces, and it's worthwhile reading for anyone who has enjoyed most of Pym's novels. These pieces do not quite have the polish of, say, Jane and Prudence but they retain the author's essential insightfulness and observational humour, and convey that touching mix of wry humour and repressed sorrow that seem to lurk around the corner of each of Pym's volumes. Worthwhile. ( )
  therebelprince | Oct 30, 2018 |
A treat for Pym fans, just a little more from her. You can never have too much Pym! ( )
  TanteLeonie | Dec 24, 2016 |
Barbara Pym wrote the short novel Civil to Strangers in 1936 when she was twenty-three years old, although it wasn’t published until after her death in 1980. Her wry, astute observations of a married couple’s problems reveals her early adroitness at analyzing the psychology of the female character which she later became so adept at. The novel fairly overflows with typical Pym characters but she also created something unseen in her other novels: the pompous, arrogant, impossible-to-please husband. Young marrieds Cassandra and Adam Marsh-Gibbon join the rest of their small community in being quite excited about the arrival of a new resident, a foreigner from Budapest, Hungary. Handsome, dashing Stefan Tilos is awestruck by the beautiful Cassandra and decides to ignore the fact that she is a married woman and tries to lure her into a romantic relationship. Adam, completely self-absorbed as he is, doesn’t mind or even notice the neighbor’s ministrations. Along the way, we are completely, safe within Pym territory with the expected Rector, a couple of spinsters, the wise older matron and more than one excellent women to keep things moving smoothly along. Things get problematical when Cassandra decides to take a vacation to Budapest on her own and an unexpected complication occurs.

The second half of the book contains bits and pieces of other novels, short stories and an interview that Barbara Pym did for the BBC which contains the only recorded information about how she felt about her work. I found this to be very interesting and a perfect end to my year of reading Pym. She spoke wistfully about the sixteen year period (beginning in the early 60s) when she couldn’t get any of her work published after successfully publishing six novels before this. She found herself in a literary wilderness but she continued writing until 1977 when Phillip Larkin wrote in The Times Literary Supplement that Pym was “an underrated writer” and shortly after that Quartet in Autumn was published and went on to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. ( )
4 vote brenzi | Dec 29, 2013 |
Civil to Strangers was Barbara Pym’s second novel written in 1936 – although not published until after her death in 1980. Alongside it is some of the previously unpublished and unfinished material that she left behind her. Brilliantly edited by her friend and biographer Hazel Holt each unfinished work is perfectly satisfying – the reader is not left hanging, just wishing for a little more.
Civil to Strangers – the longest piece in this collection running to almost 170 pages. Cassandra Marsh-Gibbons is a young woman, married to self-absorbed writer Adam. In the small Shropshire town of Up Callow, the Marsh-Gibbons are very much at the heart of local society which also includes Mrs Gower the widow of a professor and Mr Phillip Gay an ageing bachelor who has failed to marry a wealthy wife as had been his plan in his youth; Mr Gay shares his home with his niece Angela – who is in love with Adam Marsh-Gibbon, and has started to cast her eye at the curate. Rockingham Wilmot is the rector, living with his wife and daughter Janie. Into the small community of Up Callow comes Hungarian Stefan Tilos, who soon sets the cats among the pigeons, and gets tongues wagging when it is soon apparent that he has become instantly enamoured of dear good excellent Cassandra.
Cassandra is a put upon wife, taken for granted by her husband; she isn’t entirely down trodden as she casts a weary and ironic eye at the events around her. Having had the wonders of Budapest related to her by the irrepressible Mr Tilos Cassandra decides to go – alone, leaving her husband to go and study quietly in Oxford at the Bodleian. However as Cassandra’s train pulls away she is made aware that Mr Tilos is on the same train, on his way to Budapest on business and delighted to find her aboard the same train.
“But I have tea. Wait a minute, please? Mr Tilos produced a basket a sensible aunt might have, and inside were two thermos flasks, two cups and some packets wrapped in greaseproof paper.
Cassandra was deeply touched at this.
Mr Tilos handed her a jam sandwich. ‘It is plain food,’ he said ‘but healthy I think’
‘It’s lovely,’ said Cassandra warmly,’ and I’m sure it must be healthy. It’s making me feel so much better.’
What an excellent and useful man Mr Tilos was, she thought, and what a pity he spoilt things by embarrassing her with his protestations of affection.
And then she wondered, did anyone in Up Callow know that Mr Tilos had got on to this train. If they did, then there would be no longer any doubt about it. To all intents and purposes, she had gone off with Mr Tilos.”
It was nice to see some of Pym’s characters outside of England again (we were treated to an Italian trip in An Unsuitable Attachment). Mr Tilos manages to shake things up in Up Callow – everyone seems to get what they want and it is all truly delightful – vintage Pym definitely one to put a smile on anyone’s face I should think.
Coming after Civil Strangers are three unfinished novels – edited to the length of longish short stories – and I thoroughly enjoyed them. ‘Gervase and Flora’ is set in Finland, among a group pf English ex pats and the Finnish family that Gervase lodges with. Flora who has been in love with Gervase for years is staying with her aunt, Gervase comes to Finland to teach. The daughter of the house where Gervase is lodging falls for Gervase and Flora decides to encourage the attachment while beginning anew romance with one of Gervase’s students. Then come two stories set in World War Two – ‘Home Front novel’ and ‘So very secret’ – wonderfully eccentric and full brilliant observational period detail; black out curtains, rationing, eating savoury oatmeal and feeling patriotic for doing so, the pride in a new tin hat and sandbags spilling dark soil onto the pavement.
Four wonderful short stories follow, that give Pym fans the chance to meet again, Miss Dogget and Jessie Morrow from Crampton Hodnet and the Aingers and Faustina the cat from An Unsuitable attachment – we also meet the American Ned from The Sweet Dove Died. I love the way that Barbara Pym never let a good character go to waste. The final piece is in Barbara Pym’s own words – ‘Finding a voice – a radio talk’ in which she describes how she came to find her voice as a writer.
All in all I loved this collection of Pym writings which has brought my year of Pym centenary reading to a pretty wonderful conclusion. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Dec 14, 2013 |
A marvellous collection of unpublished writings:

Civil to Strangers:
When Stephan Tilos moves into the village and falls for Catherine Marsh-Gibbons, the vaguely dissatisfied wife of a famous novelist, she takes advantage of the situation to re-kindle her husband's interest in her.

Vintage Pym. Some very funny moments and the wry observations which are Pym's trademark. Perhaps the best of the unpublished Pyms I've read this year.

Quote: He noticed that Mr. Tilos was attracted by Catherine, but he treated the whole thing as a joke, and was always teasing her about it, at the same time priding himself on being the one love of her life. This annoyed Catherine because she knew it was true.

Gervase and Flora:
Gervase Harringay goes to Finland to teach English and Flora Palfrey follows him, ostensibly to visit Miss Moberley, a friend of her father's, and pillar of the English community in Helsingfors.

The usual Pym situation of woman involved with unsatisfactory man, accompanied by wry observation of the minutiae of everyday life for a certain class is not affected by the surprising change of location.

Quote: The first two years were the worst, she reflected calmly. She could tell any young woman that. But it was really no use entering upon an unrequited passion unless you were prepared to keep it up for at least five years. Seven years was best. There was something very noble about loving a person for seven years and getting nothing in return.

Home Front Novel:
Excellent women in wartime.

So Very Secret
An attempt at a spy novel as Cassandra Swan tries to deliver secret papers left by her friend Harriet who has unaccountably disappeared from the hairdresser's.

Both very enjoyable.

Short stories:
A series of vignettes one could easily imagine being expanded into complete Pym novels. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Dec 5, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Pymprimary authorall editionscalculated
Holt, HazelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klein, KatarzynaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Dear Cassandra", smiled Mrs Gower, "you are always so punctual".
I think that's the kind of immortality most authors would want -- to feel that their work would be immediately recognisable as having been written by them and by nobody else. But, of course, it's a lot to ask for.
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Réunit : "Secret, très secret" ; "Roman du front intérieur" ; "Adieu, Balkans", nouvelles extraites du recueil "Dans un salon d'Oxford"
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Book description
When Barabara Pym died in 1980 she left a considerable amount of unpublished material. This volume contains an early novel, Civil to Strangers, three novellas and an autobiographical essay, 'Finding a Voice', Pym's only written comment on her writing career.

In Civil to Strangers the lives of a young couple, Cassandra Marsh-Gibbon and her self-absorbed writer husband Adam, are thrown into upheaval when a mysterious Hungarian arrives in their village.
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In Civil to Strangers, the lives of a young couple, Cassandra Marsh-Gibbon and her self-absorbed writer husband Adam, are thrown into upheaval when a mysterious Hungarian arrives in their village. This book also contains three novellas and an autobiographical essay, 'Finding a Voice', Pym's only written comment on her writing career.… (more)

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