The Sweet Dove Died – Barbara Pym

The title seems overly sentimental until you see that it is from a poem by Keats. Ned uses it of Leonora grieving for James

Our group mostly liked this: ‘I am so happy to have read this.’ ‘Humorously absurd.’ ‘The first chapter was so Pymishly wicked.’ ‘Icy cold dissection of people in remarkably few words.

Pym is a comfort read but this one is bleak….utter selfishness.’ ‘A parody of how life is for a lot of people.’

Yet from one member: ‘One of the crappiest books I’ve ever read. There isn’t a likeable character among them. Nothing happens except in people’s heads. Pulp reading.’ ‘It’s like Neighbours set in Sloane Square.’ ‘It’s the sixties but these people are burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the revolution that is going on all around them.

There’s some catty descriptions: the shabby clothes worn by men in auction rooms (I was thinking Antiques Roadshow), a man staring at James, who is not sure that he wants ‘that kind of admiration…a fate worse than death.’

James is ‘arm candy, a canvas for them to write on, callous in a vacant way.’

 Leonora organises her day so that agreeable things outweigh the disagreeable.
Leonora offered her cheek. She did not like being kissed by women, or indeed by anyone very much
Leonora liked to think of her life as calm of mind, all passion spent, or, more rarely, as emotion recollected in tranquility. But had there ever really been passion, or even emotion? One or two tearful scenes in bed — for she had never enjoyed that kind of thing — and now it was I such a relief that one didn’t have to worry anymore. Her men friends were mostly elderly cultured people, who admired her elegance and asked no more than the pleasure of her company. Men not unlike Humphrey Boyce, indeed.
‘Oh, very chilly,’ Leonora mocked. ‘One feels that using paraffin at all is somehow degrading — the sort of I thing black people do, upsetting oil heaters and setting the place on fire. Really, it’s rather frightening to think of her up there — that’s why one will simply have to get rid of her when her lease runs out.’

Phoebe was obviously not at her best in the kitchen. It was a mistake to assume that all women were.

Should she write and announce herself or call unexpectedly ­people in the country were always in (In fact door and windows open while she’d gone to London for the day)

Didn’t trust the kind of man you meet on trains

Leonora had taken a great deal of trouble polishing it and restoring its beauty with loving care. Yet when she looked into it the reflection it gave back was different from James’s mirror in which she had appeared ageless and fascinating. Now her reflection dis­pleased her, for her face seemed shrunken and almost old. Or was she really beginning to look like that?

‘A bucket?’ Leonora echoed. Really, did one look the sort of person who would have a bucket?

Is her James’s relationship with her oedipal?

Humphrey; ‘Goodness, is it nearly Christmas?’ said Humphrey. ‘I suppose women start their shopping much earlier than we do.’
So that was how it was, thought Humphrey. Now he could admit to himself that he had always had some doubt as to the sex of James’s lovers. Perhaps, as uncle and nephew, they had been in too close a relationship for James to confide in him. Or perhaps they had not been close enough. And this most decidedly was a girl. He had put on his spectacles to make quite sure, for it wasn’t always easy to tell these days.

Ned `Is it a comfortable bed?’ Leonora asked, foolishly, she realized.

‘I guess so,’ said Ned, ‘though maybe comfort isn’t all I look for.’

present, a pair of expensive cuff links. This had been com­paratively easy to choose, for all Ned asked of a present was that it should have cost the giver a lot of money.

 Miss Caton Her friend’s upset stomach and dislike of Continental Catholicism were made vivid to James, so that he found himself sharing in their relief at the eventual return to good plain food and the Anglican Church.

Miss Foxe: was a person of gentle birth and refinement living in reduced circum­stances. – a bit dated, even back then?

Homosexuality, hinted at in her other words, gets more of a look in: Colin and Harold are ‘lovers’.

He told the man the price of the object and they made some perfunctory conversation. Then the man made a suggestion which brought a not unbecoming blush to James’s cheek, though it was not the first time such a proposition had been put to him. If his suitor had been more attractive, and if Miss Caton had not come in at that moment, who knows what might have happened. As it was the man mumbled something about a friend being interested in the paperweight and left the shop as quickly as he had entered it.

‘Oh, that man — he’s always hanging round here,’ said Miss Caton, with an impatient gesture as if she were brushing away an insect. ‘You don’t want to have any­thing to do with people like that.’

‘So like Colin,’ Meg went on. ‘I’ve been through it all so many times. But they always come back in the end, you’ll see.’

What’s not to like in cat-lover Liz, who gives her cats turkey liver for their Christmas dinner?

There is a lot of drinking and driving – obviously people weren’t aware then.

There’s no sex until page 42!

And no vicars until page 157, though Leonora muses about a village bric a brac sale: This did not appear to be the kind of function that men attended, except perhaps the clergy, but no clergy­man was visible, only the Scoutmaster with a little group of Scouts and Cubs.

I liked: ‘Now how will you get home?’ Meg wondered in the rather vague way that car-drivers do about non-drivers.

‘Oh, I shall manage,’ said Leonora, with an enigmatic smile as if she had a magic carpet waiting.

….’I’ve never found that,’ said Leonora. ‘Taxi drivers are usually sweet little men.’

….. It was good to be leaning back in the cool darkness of the taxi. The driver, she now saw, was a coloured man, but she was sure he would turn out to be as ‘sweet’ as taxi drivers usually were to her.

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