Friday, March 7, 2014

The Sweet Dove Died

This is one of the weirder of Barbara Pym's novels (which are often traditional stories of women in English villages), and for that reason even more delightful than usual. Leonora is an elegant, aging woman in London who attracts two admirers: Humphrey, a man of her own age who runs an antique store, and his nephew, James, who he's grooming for the trade. Leonora likes James, and they embark in a deep friendship. The novel's epigraph:
I had a dove, and the sweet dove died;
And I have thought it died of grieving;
O, what could it grieve for? its feet were tied
With a single thread of my hand's own weaving ... 
John Keats
Leonora and James flirt with the boundaries of friendship and love. The novel contemplates the interplay of love and letting go. And aging and death compared with youth and vitality are a constant theme.

While the story is one of almost forbidden love, there are also very traditional aspects--Leonora cooks and manages the house and likes male attention and care. And the novel proceeds in the slow, character-studying fashion to which one is accustomed from Pym.

(Excellent Women, No Fond Return of Love, A Few Green Leaves, Quartet in Autumn)

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