The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym (Classics Club)

“You make me sound hardly human, like a kind of fossil,” Leonora protested.

“I didn’t mean that – it’s just that I never think of you as being ruffled or upset by anything. Not like me- that awful night when I burst in on you, whatever must you have thought!”

“People react in different ways. One may not show emotion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that one doesn’t feel it.”

Barbara Pym is one of my favorites authors, but I’ve been saving some of her books I’ve not yet read. Not sure what I’m exactly saving them for, but I haven’t wanted to rush through all of them. I owned a copy of The Sweet Dove Died, purchased for $1.00 (!) at a local used bookstore, and decided this was the time to cross another Classics Club choice off the list. It’s short (just 208 pages) and typically charming and amusing – but for me it won’t jump to the top of her works.

19523620Written in 1978 (one of her later novels – she died in 1980,) the book’s main character is Leonora, an elegant woman of some means who’s in her early 50’s (I think, although it’s not exactly clear.) She meets twenty-four year old James and his uncle Henry, an antique dealer, at a book auction and immediately the three hit it off. Henry is taken with Leonora and she in turn has her heart set on James. But precisely what sort of relationship she wants with James is rather vague – she seems to just want his companionship and devotion, but not really anything physical.

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 of two tearful scenes in bed – for she had never enjoyed that kind of thing – and now it was 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 a Henry Boyce, indeed.

As in many of Pym’s novels, not much happens, but simultaneously everything happens. James and Leonora grow closer, and then not one, but two people come into James’s life and threaten Leonora’s relationship with him. Meanwhile Henry is the odd person out.

I didn’t particularly like any of the characters, which is unusual for the Pym novels I’ve read – usually there’s at least one sympathetic character. Leonora is rather selfish and cold. But I was entertained and amused – Pym is always wryly funny and observant of human nature, even in an obtuse character. And as the novel went on I felt a little sympathy for her as she tried to hold on to her youth. I was also surprised by how modern the relationships felt, in that one of James’s paramours is a man. And it’s not something anyone in the novel bats their eyelashes at.

All in all, a gentle, intelligent, somewhat melancholy comedy of manners, full of repressed emotions and characters who aren’t terribly self aware. If you’ve never tried Barbara Pym I wouldn’t start with the one, but it makes for an entertaining and fast read if you’ve enjoyed her other books. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

(This is the 17th work read out of 51 classics on my Classics Club list.)

12 thoughts on “The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym (Classics Club)

  1. Book auctions and antique dealers – two things that always grab my attention! You’re doing such a great job with the Classics Club!! I haven’t read this Barbara Pym but am reminded that I do need to get back to her. It’s been… maybe 10 years since I’ve read anything by her? Thank you for the gentle nudge 🙂

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  2. I’ve not heard of this Pym novel before! Must add it to my list! I totally understand about “saving” the books because I am doing that too and I have no idea why either, but there you go, it must be something! 🙂

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  3. I actually really loved this one, but it was because of the bookish angle. Also maybe because I think I read it right after Quartet in Autumn. Which is possibly my favourite. But, really, it showcases quite a different energy from J&P and EW, so I think I was also maybe a little relieved to find TSDD to be a relatively lighter tale than Quartet (as much as I adore it now). Earlier this year I wrote a short biography for Literary Ladies about Barbara Pym and I was so surprised to learn some details about her love life. So interesting! *buttons lip* Which Pym are you aiming for next?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooohh, I want to know! 🙂

      Well, Quartet in Autumn is on my Classics Club list, but I’m itching to reread Excellent Women since it’s been so long that I’ve read it. I have another of her later ones on my Classics Club list but I don’t remember it now.

      Liked by 1 person

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