Some Tame Gazelle
by Barbara Pym
first published in 1950
source: personal copy
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
It was odd that Harriet should always have been so fond of curates. They were so immature and always made the same kind of conversation. Now the Archdeacon was altogether different . . . ' 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 elderly Italian 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 take to calling on the sisters for rather more unsettling reasons.
Barbara Pym's first published novel sets the stage for most of her later work. Her world is filled with middle-aged spinsters, church life, English villages, and the clergy. Pym is a keen observer of everyday life and presents it with quiet humor and dry wit.
As usual, she drew me in for the opening paragraph:
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. Belinda had noticed it when they had met him for the first time at the vicarage last week and had felt quite embarrassed. Perhaps Harriet could say something to him about it. Her blunt jolly manner could carry off these little awkwardnesses much better than Belinda's timidity. Of course he might think it none of their business, as indeed it was not, but Belinda rather doubted whether he thought at all, if one were to judge by the quality of his first sermon.Pym always seems to include a few thoughts on fashion:
'Besides, high heels are definitely the fashion now.'And reflection on life in general:
'Yes, I suppose they are,' agreed Belinda, for Harriet always knew things like that. And yet, she thought, at our age, surely all that was necessary was to dress suitably and if possible in good taste, without really thinking of fashion? With the years one ought to have grown beyond such thoughts but somehow one never did, and Belinda set out for the afternoon conscious that she was wearing dowdy shoes. (p.26)
Belinda put down her knitting and sat dreaming. Of course there was a certain pleasure in not doing something; it was impossible that one's high expectations should be disappointed by the reality. (p.84)
'It's no use being sentimental about things,' said Harriet. 'You shouldn't keep a clutter of clothes you never wear just because you once liked them.'Food often takes center stage in Pym's world. Curates are invited to dinner, churches hold teas and bazaars, and menus require a good deal of discussion. In fact, there is even a Barbara Pym Cookbook.
Belinda made no comment on this, for she was thinking that Harriet's words might be applied to more serious things than clothes. If only one could clear out one's mind and heart as ruthlessly as one did one's wardrobe... (p. 221)
Some Tame Gazelle will forever stand out in my mind as the novel with the "cauliflower cheese incident". In honor of Barbara Pym Reading Week, I experimented with my own version of a cauliflower cheese, but it turned out to be more of a baked cauliflower casserole. Probably not what the Misses Bede served to their seamstress...
I always enjoy time spent with Barbara Pym's novels. They have become my ideal comfort read, especially when served with a cup of tea.
Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:Something to love, oh, something to love!