Some Tame Gazelle (1950)

by Barbara Pym

Some Tame Gazelle was the first novel by Barbara Pym, called “the novelist most touted by one’s most literate friends” by the New York Times Book Review. Begun by Pym when she was a student at Oxford before World War II, it is remarkably polished for a first novel, as well as remarkable for Pym’s ability to get into the head of a 50-something spinster.

Unmarried sisters Belinda and Harriet Bede live together in an English village. Both of their lives focus on clergymen. Timid, kindly Belinda has nourished an unrequited love for married Archdeacon Hoccleve, vicar of the local church, since their college days. She excuses his defects, which include boring his parishioners by quoting poetry and complaining about overwork but doing very little. Clothes horse Harriet, brasher than her sister, has been devoted to a string of young curates who arrive to assist at the church. The latest, Edgar Donne, is dull and awkward, but no matter; Harriet is drawn to his role.

Neither Belinda nor Harriet agonizes about the inappropriateness of their attractions. Toward the end of the book Belinda does sense that her neighbors see her as pathetic, but she rationalizes about needing to love someone. In later Pym novels, the situation of unmarried women of a certain age will seem sadder. Some Tame Gazelle ends with the Bede sisters contentedly holding on to their impossible passions.

Interestingly, by the time Pym reached the Bedes’ age, she was unmarried and living with her sister in a village in Oxfordshire.


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