Barbara Pym’s funniest novel follows relations between two unlikely couples
By George Howland Jr.
In 1940, the English-novelist Barbara Pym intended to publish Crampton Hodnet, a comedy of manners set in North Oxford, England. Unfortunately, World War Two intervened and the novel had to wait to find its public. First, after the war, Pym experienced literary success with the publication of six novels between 1950-61, none of them “Crampton Hodnet.” For the next 16 years, no one would publish her new novels and she became a forgotten literary figure. Finally, in 1977, The Times Literary Supplement, an august London weekly, asked notables to name “the most underrated writer of the [20th] century”; Poet Philip Larkin and biographer Lord David Cecil both chose Pym. Pym’s work experienced a wonderful renaissance and she published four more novels. In 1981, she died. Four years later, after Hazel Holt, Pym’s literary executor, prepared the manuscript for publication, Crampton Hodnet was finally able to enter our lives.
Of Pym’s thirteen published novels, Crampton Hodnet is the funniest. It has the hallmark of Pym’s work: the close observation of ordinary lives of middle-class Englishmen and women. Some of her characters are confined by the cruelty of genteel poverty while others are swollen with arrogance by failing to appreciate their own good fortune. Crampton Hodnet, however, contains none of the heartbreak of The Sweet Dove Died or any of the pathos of Quartet in Autumn.
Smith shows her familiar punk contempt and lays bare her sweetness at her Seattle performance
For the first time in my experience, Patti Smith was sweet to an audience member at Sunday’s October 6th’s performance in Seattle.
Usually Smith delights in grousing at her fans. In Q&A sessions, Smith cuts off questioners, calls them out for asking about stupid things or mocks them for their interest in her personal life. She delights in insulting her admirers and making them the butt of her jokes. Since it’s in keeping with Smith’s punk persona, the audience loves it.
Last night, standing center stage at a packed Benaroya Hall, with her long white hair, black jacket, pants and boots and a white shirt, Smith alternated readings Year of the Monkey, her new book, and performing acoustic versions of songs from throughout her career. When Smith reads, the lenses of her reading glasses magnify her eyes so much that she looks like Emma Thompson playing Sybill Trelawney in a Harry Potter movie. Tony Shanahan, her band’s bassist and keyboard player, accompanied Smith on acoustic guitar and piano. Smith also played acoustic guitar on two songs.
Year of the Monkey, Smith said, swirls around the illnesses of two dear friends: Blue Oyster Cult’s Sandy Pearlman and playwright Sam Shepard.
She remembered Pearlman’s odd gifts. “Once he sent me the whole [Richard Wagner’s] Ring cycle on vinyl. It was like 11 pounds. I never really liked the Ring. I still have it. It’s under my bed. I like The Hobbit better.”
About halfway through the show, she said wryly, “Now we’re going to have a mandatory question-and-answer session.”
A friend called with the sad news: Writer and activist Deran Ludd had committed suicide on September 9, 2018.
I only saw Deran dance once. It was 1977. Deran was frugging and laughing with Leslie Batchelder to the sounds of the B-52s “Rock Lobster.” The two of them were impossibly beautiful.
Deran had the delicate patrician features of the WASP elite. His hair was a little shaggy and he had on earrings that matched his blue eyes. His slim body didn’t hold my attention, it was his gorgeous face that I couldn’t stop looking at. My gaydar went off—but quietly. He seemed like a sweet, hippie boy.