About the only fact that the non-fan ever remembers about the career of Barbara Pym (1913–80) is its abrupt truncation in 1963. The news came in a letter from the publishing house Jonathan Cape, declining the current manuscript, An Unsuitable Attachment—this was published posthumously—and informing its author that her books had never made any money and were becoming ever harder to sell. In the end Miss Pym had her revenge: perseverance and the efforts of celebrity admirers realized a spectacular late flourishing. But the throwing-over by Cape’s no-nonsense Mr. Wren Howard inflicted lasting damage. There followed a decade-and-a-half-long pageant of inner distress that manifested itself in everything from her grievance-strewn correspondence to a vilely colored milk jelly christened “Maschler Pudding” in honor of Tom Maschler, the Cape editor who had...


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