20 March 2013

A Pymtastic Weekend

Last year when Amanda at Fig and Thistle suggested we join together to co-host a Barbara Pym reading week I took to the interwebs to look for more information about Pym. The top result Google returned was for the Barbara Pym Society of North America which in turn led me to a link for their annual conference. The thought of spending a weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts talking about Pym was too good to pass up. Little did I know how much fun I was going to have.

The weekend started off in high style with evensong on Friday night at the Church of the Advent on Beacon Hill in Boston.  In addition to including one of my favorite hymn arrangements (Ralph Vaughan Williams's version of Old 100th "All people that on earth do dwell") the service also featured an anthem that was commissioned by the Pym Society to mark Pym's centenary. The anthem was one of Barbara's favorite hymns "God Moves In A Mysterious Way" set to music by composer Rodney Lister. The evensong service itself was more Anglo-Catholic than the typical Anglican service one usually encounters in England. Although there is some disagreement as to just how high a service Pym preferred, her characters tend to prefer an incense laden version that reminded me quite a lot of my Roman Catholic childhood.

After the service we all headed down to the church basement for dinner. On the way there, I stumbled across a sign on a door that had me kicking myself for not having a camera with me. It was something about not letting Simon the church cat outside as he was still too young. Anyone who reads or knows Simon at Stuck in a Book will understand me when I say that I took the sign as a good omen for the weekend. The food at dinner was quite delicious. Perhaps the highlight for me was finally tasting cauliflower cheese (a kind of cheesy cauliflower au gratin) that featured so memorably in Some Tame Gazelle. This cauliflower cheese was garnished with a worm made of green grapes in further homage to STG.

It was clear from this first encounter with the die hard Pym fans in attendance that the weekend was going to be lots of fun. Oh to be in a room full of like-minded readers. The papers presented over the course of the weekend where plenty academic but did not diminish the warmth and fellowship that pervaded the conference.

There is much more I could say, but I save it for Barbara Pym Reading Week which is June 1st to 8th.  Until then, here are some pictures.

The conference was held at the Barker Center at Harvard.

Hot off the presses. Ms. Cocking gave a presentation about the poetry by Pym and her friends that is sprinkled throughout Pym's papers at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. She even had wonderful readers who recited excerpts of the poetry.

I counted three knitters, a quilter, a crocheter (shown above) and an embroiderer.

There was a birthday party to celebrate Pym's centenary as well as the release of Cocking's book.

With a capacity of 100 for the conference, there was a waiting list. I am glad I registered early.

When I was looking for a place to stay I came across The College Club which has a B&B. It seemed a fitting place to stay while attending a Barbara Pym conference.

Rather than get a double room with an en suite bath, it seemed more Pymsian to get a single with a shared bath. Unfortunately, the one person I shared the bath with was not particularly considerate. But I loved my cosy little room.


  1. Dear Thomas,

    Miss Pym would be awfully moved by such a special occasion dedicated to her if she was still alive. How I wish to be a fly on the wall. Spending a weekend talking about Pym, her novels, eating cupcakes and drinking tea sounds utterly civilised. I'm also charmed by the picture of you standing next to the picture of Miss Pym.

    I've always been a devoted reader of her books. An Unsuitable Attachment (check out for an audio book read by the superb English actress Penelope Keith with her plummy voice - utterly delicious!!)and Quartet in Autumn have been my two most cherised works by her. Depending on one's taste, I tend to prefer her later works when she wrote most melancholy (but her delivery was never solemn or depressing) books.

    I've been longing to see a television drama (you might have heard of) called Miss Pym's Day Out directed by James Runcie starring with the great Patricia Routledge. The link is here http://jamesruncie.com/docs/film_misspym.html

    I think it deserves a repeat on TV or a new release on DVD for Barbara Pym's fans around the world.

    Thank you once again for sharing, Thomas. Keep up with all the good works. Aren't we such kindred spirits?

    With warm wishes, ASD

  2. Looks like a wonderful weekend. I would've liked to have been a fly on the wall and hear the conversations in the reception line. I love the fact that you noted the handiwork being done. Thanks for sharing your weekend with us!

  3. Now why did I think such a conference would be dry and overly academic? The dinner set the tone straight away (cauliflower cheese! A "worm"!) And the knitters -- perfectly Pymian.

    Thanks so much for the photos, it really brought the event to life.

  4. That's a wonderfully Pymish room - although I think she would have considered just a plain headboard sufficient, no pilasters necessary! It does all sound great fun and I'm so looking forward to being able to share my experience of the meeting hosted by the BPS in the UK that I'm going to in June, and to hearing what else you are going to say about your weekend. I hope we have cauliflower cheese too, I love it.

    (Simon the church cat ... giggle!)

  5. The photo of the knitting and your comment made me laugh very loudly--probably shouldn't be reading blogs during meetings! Looking forward to Pym week and revisiting old favorites.

  6. A shared bath? No. Don't think I'd be able to do that.

  7. Sounds like it all went according to plan and the pictures are fabulous.

  8. Clearly, I'm missing out on Some Tame Gazelle and the cauliflower cheese. It's my chosen title for June - now I'm wondering if I can hold out that long. Your weekend sounds perfect, but like Ti, I could never share a bath!

  9. I've been saving A Glass of Blessings and Jane & Prudence for the week, but now I'm thinking I need to add Some Tame Gazelle (I will not be celebrating with cauliflower cheese, myself :)

  10. Such an interesting time you've had. Loved the photos and the note re: Simon the cat. Very funny.

  11. Cauliflower Cheese, yum! How wonderful that the timing worked out so well for you, Thomas, and your room definitely looked cosy. Looking forward to the read-along in June.

  12. How wonderful an event. I am so looking forward to the reading week now. I found a Folio Society copy of Excellent Women last week and it's gorgeous, can't wait to dive in. :)

  13. ASD: I heard about the Routledge piece, must see that. I had never heard of the Penelope Keith audio book. That really has my mouth watering. Oddly, I drank no tea all weekend. I think the fact that there weren't real cups and saucers put me off that.

    Susan: But you wouldn't have been a fly on the wall, you would have been having the time of your life chatting.

    Laura: These people know their Pym but it definitely wasn't academic or stuffy.

    Geranium Cat: I wish I could go to that June meeting. I can't wait to hear about it.

    Elisabeth: I am glad my blog helped you get through a meeting.

    Ti: I probably won't do it again.

    Ruthiella: Often times I make big plans and then only do half of it. Not this time.

    JoAnn: After the conference, I am so tempted to read all of them in one fell swoop.

    Lisa May: I think that would be time well spent.

    Pam: More Boston photos coming later this week.

    Darlene: The location also helped. Glad it wasn't in Oxford.

    Steve: Thank you for the link. I didn't even think to Google it.

    Alex: Ooh, I am curious about the Folio Society edition.

  14. Actually, it was even simpler than Google; I just clicked on the link to the Church in your posting (because I was curious about the music at their services).


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.