My Trollope group is off reading Barbara Pym so I re-read Some Tame Gazelle again, although I just read it in March. Here's the review I wrote then.
Rereading Barbara Pym periodically is enlightening. When I first encountered her books I thought they were somewhat amusing but not in the least profound. As I grow older I recognize how perceptive she is in her depiction of unmarried middle aged women whose lives have constricted to the daily round and the common task with its small pleasures and pains.
Pym was born in 1913 and was 37 when Some Tame Gazelle was published in 1950, but she showed a remarkable sensitivity to women in their 50s, spinsters, “old maids,” and in this as in many of her books, the “odd women,” those whose men, the men they would have married, were killed in the First World War. Later in her life Pym and her sister lived together in a cottage in a small village as the sisters Belinda and Harriet Bede do in this novel.
The title comes from an obscure early 19th century poet, Thomas Haynes Bayly,
Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove:
Something to love, oh, something to love.
Belinda, through whose eyes we see most of the story, quotes this couplet, understanding that her sister’s doting on a series of young curates and her own holding fast for 25 years to her love of Archdeacon Hoccleve demonstrate this need to love someone, something.
The plot is simple. The archdeacon’s wife, Agatha, goes on vacation to a German spa without her husband in what is clearly an attempt to get away from the self-centered, lazy, and uncaring cleric. He uses this time to remind Belinda that they were once in love and that perhaps he made the wrong choice in marrying Agatha, something that is on Belinda’s mind at all times and which, coming from the archdeacon, pleases her but makes her uncomfortable.
Some old friends visit the archdeacon and one of them proposes to Harriet but is spurned. Then Agatha returns bringing with her the Bishop of Mbawawa who in his youth was one of the first of Harriet’s coddled curates. Belinda expects him, too, to propose to Harriet and fears that Harriet will accept. But Belinda is in for a surprise. Though the book ends with two marriages they are presented with humor and not a little irony rather than satisfaction. Pym does not provide traditionally happy endings.