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Some Tame Gazelle (1950)

by Barbara Pym

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0874819,105 (3.99)1 / 210
Belinda and Harriet Bede live together in a small English village. Shy, sensible Belinda has been secretly in love with Henry Hoccleve-the poetry-spouting, married archdeacon of their church-for thirty years. Belinda's much more confident, forthright younger sister Harriet, meanwhile, is ardently pursued by Count Ricardo Bianco. Although she has turned down every marriageable man who proposes, Harriet still welcomes any new curate with dinner parties and flirtatious conversation. And one of the newest arrivals, the reverend Edgar Donne, has everyone talking. A warm, affectionate depiction of a postwar English village, Some Tame Gazelle perfectly captures the quotidian details that make up everyday life. With its vibrant supporting cast, it's also a poignant story of unrequited love.… (more)
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 Virago Modern Classics: Barbara Pym Centenary: Some Tame Gazelle172 unread / 172Robertgreaves, October 2013

» See also 210 mentions

English (47)  Dutch (1)  All languages (48)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
(2020 has become my year of rereading the novels of Barbara Pym, my favourite novelist - "favourite" in the sense of "speaks most to my soul", not as in "greatest" or "best"; I believe she would have appreciated the distinction. This is my revised review.)

"Perhaps a nourishing milky drink was needed to bring her down to earth but it seemed an unromantic end to the evening."

In an unprepossessing village, two middle-aged spinster sisters live unprepossessing lives. Harriet spends her days being courted by an Italian Count for whom she feels no love, and her nights inventing excuses to cook meals or knit pullovers for an endless array of young, attractive curates who have no love to give her. Belinda, meanwhile, nurses a lifelong unrequited love only for one man: the married Archdeacon, Henry Hoccleve, with whom she had a brief love when they were undergraduates three decades earlier. Around them spiral love affairs, dissatisfied "decayed gentlewomen", and religious rivalries.

Barbara Pym's first novel was written when she was 22, although heavily revised before she finally got it published in her late 30s. (In between, a whole lot of self-development, failed writings, and WWII had passed.) Originally written as a knowing roman a clef for her friends, Pym casts herself and her sister in the lead roles, with her undergraduate love taking the part of the Archdeacon. Some Tame Gazelle has much of Pym's charm, and her anthropological technique of characterisation by way of minute details. It is often wryly funny, from the attempts by a group of guests to ignore what is clearly tinned soup with some potato water(!) added to a young man unsure whether a spinster quoting Ovid at him is hinting he should leave or whether she has forgotten what the lines actually mean. (It's the latter.) And that's without mentioning a sequence wherein a group of refined and dowdy churchgoing ladies find themselves giggling over a particularly phallic African musical instrument.

Some Tame Gazelle carries with it most of Pym's core themes - the choice between taking a risk to find fulfillment, or settling for comfortable dissatisfaction; class position and social status in a (very) small pond; the importance of food, clothing, and religion - or rather, the culture of religion rather than belief as such - and owes much to the tradition of English "high comedy" that dated back to Austen and had thrived in Pym's youth through authors such as E.F. Benson and (although more farcical) P.G. Wodehouse. The novel also toys with the notion of subjectivity, which would become one of her hallmarks, as characters are viewed from different perspectives, leading us to realise how difficult true human connection is, and how funny or tragic a life can seem to those who are not living it. (She has not perfected this yet.)

It is not, I think, Pym's greatest work. The novel carries too many traces of youth, even a sense of something derivative in the heavy use of literary quotations. Some of the characters (Edith Liversidge among them) bear the uncomfortable contrasts of having changed between drafts, while others (Edgar Donne) are early versions of types she will perfect in the near future. The character of Belinda Bede - representing the purest version of young Barbara - is even a little unsufferable. Many of Pym's heroines will carry unrequited loves and be charming, but Belinda is just a doormat, waiting patiently for any time Henry's wife goes away, to dote on him, yet always knowing that after 30 years she will have to settle for distant love, expecting nothing in return. (To be fair, this is how young Barbara felt about her own love, also named Henry, and her diaries become exhausting around this time, with her intention to love him forever, no matter what he may feel.)

Yet a merely good Pym is nevertheless food for the soul. There is much to give amusement and even occasionally insight. As Belinda herself says, "I'm sure we need plenty of tea after all this excitement." ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 21, 2024 |
I've enjoyed Barbara Pym in the past. She kind of sneaks up on you with her brilliant, understated characterizations of ordinary people whose uneventful lives, when scrutinized her way, become fascinating, amusing, enlightening, and often absolutely hilarious. Some Tame Gazelle was her first novel, and she was already on her game with spinster sisters Harriet and Belinda Bede, who some indeterminate while ago "decided to spend their old age together", and who engage themselves with affairs of the parish. Harriet, who had a good university education, has long ago given up all intellectual pursuits to adopt a series of thin pale curates as they come and go, plying them with handknit items, cakes and boiled chicken suppers. Belinda, on the other hand, still takes pleasure in the greater and lesser English poets, and nurtures a long-standing love for the Archdeacon, who luckily for Belinda, married someone else 30 years ago. There seems to be nothing loveable left in the Archdeacon, who isn't at all happy in either his marriage or his calling, but Belinda loyally continues to look on him fondly and defend his rather shiftless performance of his clerical duties from her sister's sharp criticisms, while occasionally indulging in daydreams about how she might have been a more sympathetic helpmeet than his wife has turned out to be. There isn't anything demanding about reading Pym, but it would be a mistake to dismiss her novels as insignificant or "cosy" just because they're comfortable. It's sort of like spending an afternoon making cookies with a wise old aunt....you're richer for it.
Read and reviewed in 2013 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Mar 28, 2024 |
I would have no trouble voting for this as the most perfect novel. Sweet, humorous, perceptive, touching. And Ms.Pym's writing .... well, it's like that late-spring day where you feel like you're surrounded by a perfect puff of air ... like you could close your eyes and float. ( )
  ReadMeAnother | Feb 7, 2023 |
I was recently moved to revisit [a:Barbara Pym|104015|Barbara Pym|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1231080935p2/104015.jpg], as an antidote, I think, to the chaos of our world and the intensity of many of the books I'd been reading. Pym's novels, of which this, written in 1950, is the first, typically focus on the quiet lives of unmarried women living in villages in rural or suburban England.

Not a lot happens in these books; the characters tend not to have exotic temperaments. Their social interactions often involve local clergymen - in a most proper way, of course.

So what is the attraction? The subdued but always graceful prose is filled with ironic observations on the relationships among the residents of the women's villages, and most acutely, the relationships between men and women. Although the protagonists often struggle with feelings of unrequited love, as in this book, they also realize that life without a husband is quite comfortable and acceptable. The men so often have clay feet to accompany their large egos. Pym isn't a feminist, but her female characters do have a decided (though unremarkable) strength.

Both of the middle-aged sisters in this book receive sometimes surprising offers of marriage, all of which are rejected. They don't need marriage just to say they have a husband. It is interesting to contrast the circumstances of Pym's women, who all seem to have "independent means", as compare with women of today, who may not need a man, but do need a job.

I came away from [b:Some Tame Gazelle|178572|Some Tame Gazelle|Barbara Pym|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1347763773l/178572._SY75_.jpg|1560758] soothed, and I will need to remember the "Pym solution" when my soul again needs a balm.

( )
  BarbKBooks | Aug 15, 2022 |
Interesting to read this so soon after Cranford, as there are quite a few similarities. I’d say Pym ultimately has a more sardonic view than Gaskell about the village spinster life, though also a funnier one. This book, similarly a bit episodic, also ties itself together with a stronger theme— oh, something to love! Unfortunately, the loves of the book all seem a little hollow, though that may have been the point Pym was making. I liked it when we saw Belinda and Harriet’s genuine affection for each other, though, and wish we’d gotten a little more of that.

Also, Pym has succeeded in creating one of the most insufferable characters I’ve ever read in the figure of the Archdeacon, lol ( )
2 vote misslevel | Sep 22, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Barbara Pymprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cheek, MavisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ford, JessieCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schuman, JackieCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tomlinson, PatienceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turle, BernardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zazo, LidiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:
Something to love, oh, something to love!


Thomas Haynes Bailey
Dedication
First words
The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down.
Quotations
"Look", Harriet cried, for she had been so absorbed in her task of `strengthening' a pair of corsets with elastic thread that she had not noticed the Archdeacon creeping up the drive. ... she bundled the corsets under a cushion in one of the armchairs; Belinda noticed to her horror that they were imperfectly hidden and planted herself firmly in front of the chair.
She began to find ways of making things better and more bearable.
In future Belinda would continue to find such consolation as she needed in our greater English poets, when she was not gardening or making vests for the poor in Pimlico.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Belinda and Harriet Bede live together in a small English village. Shy, sensible Belinda has been secretly in love with Henry Hoccleve-the poetry-spouting, married archdeacon of their church-for thirty years. Belinda's much more confident, forthright younger sister Harriet, meanwhile, is ardently pursued by Count Ricardo Bianco. Although she has turned down every marriageable man who proposes, Harriet still welcomes any new curate with dinner parties and flirtatious conversation. And one of the newest arrivals, the reverend Edgar Donne, has everyone talking. A warm, affectionate depiction of a postwar English village, Some Tame Gazelle perfectly captures the quotidian details that make up everyday life. With its vibrant supporting cast, it's also a poignant story of unrequited love.

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Together yet alone, the Misses Bede occupy the central crossroads of parish life. Harriet, plump, elegant and jolly, likes nothing better than to make a fuss of new curates, secure in the knowledge that Count Ricardo Bianco will propose to her yet again this year. Belinda, meanwhile, has harboured sober feelings of devotion towards Archdeacon Hochleve for thirty years. Then into their quiet comfortable lives comes a famous librarian, Nathaniel Mold, and a bishop from Africa, Theodore Grote - who each takes to calling on the sisters for rather more unsettling reasons.
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