Barbara Pym
No Soft Incense:
Barbara Pym and the Church,
edited by Hazel K. Bell.
Barbara Pym Society, 115 pages, GBP 7.50

Although No Soft Incense, the title of this collection of essays put together by the Barbara Pym Society (it is available on the Society’s website at, is not in fact the title of one of Barbara Pym’s eleven novels, it mimics her penchant for picking up phrases from obscurish English poems: Some Tame Gazelle (Thomas Haynes Bayly), A Glass of Blessings (“The Pulley,” Herbert), The Sweet Dove Died (“The Dove,” Keats). Pym’s titles are obscure both in the sense that you might not have heard of them and that you can’t quite tell what they’re supposed to mean even once you have.

The phrase “no soft incense” (modified Keats) pleasantly poses a Pym-like conundrum: no...


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