Sunday, August 22, 2010

Librarians and Libraries in Fiction I: Some Tame Gazelle

Pym, Barbara. Some Tame Gazelle. New York: Dutton, 1983 (first published in England in 1950).

Submitted by R. Stuhr

Writing about the mobile librarian reminded me of another novel I read recently, this one by Barbara Pym. I am a big fan of Barbara Pym. I suppose I read her the way others read Jane Austen. I like to read and reread her books at intervals. I think of them as miniatures or tiny jewels. Almost all of her novels feature unmarried women. Occasionally the women get married, most are involved in the church, and if not with the church, then they  at least share tea with the clergy. They are generally well versed in the greater and lesser English poets. Most of Pym's novels are comedies. In Some Tame Gazelle, Pym writes about two unmarried sisters, one flamboyant, outgoing, and flirtatious, the other quieter and cherishing a long unrequited love from college.

I bring up this novel now, because of the charcter Nicholas Parnell, friend to the quieter sister (but not the cherished love) and chief librarian at the college they both attended. There are quiet a few funny lines related to libraries and librarians, although, maybe they are funny because I spend much of my time in and thinking about libraries

Nicholas Parnell responds to the reverence he receives, when introduced as the Librarian, "I do not approve of this hushed and reverent attitude towards our great Library. After all, it is a place for human beings, isn't it?" (94). He goes on to explain that the Library now has central heating and a Lady's Cloak Room.

Later tells another character, "She ... introduced me to a charming lady who showed great reverence when the Library was mentioned. It is really rather gratifying. I should be delighted to show her round," he added. "She would find every convenience. The next thing will be to have some kind of a restaurant where readers can take luncheon or tea together. Do you know,"--he tapped his walking stick on the ground--"I have had to have notices printed requesting readers not to eat in the Library? One would hardly have thought it possible" (97).

More references to libraries and this time library patrons while discussing  scholarly pamphlets and popular reading tastes at dinner:

"I'm afraid you're hardly a best seller," said Mr. Mold [the Librarian's no. 2 man] jovially. "Nor even as much ordered in the Library as Rochester's poems . .. "

"I am afraid they are rather naughty," Said Dr. Parnell. "We have had to lock them away in a special place, together with other books of a similar nature. All the same, they are quite often asked for by our readers."

"Oh, well, I suppose people have to study them," said Belinda, handing round cigarettes wondering how she could change the subject (p. 117). 

And just one more, Belinda, the quiet sister, describes the Librarian, "Nicholas, is a great connoisseur," said Belinda. "It seems right that a librarian should be, I think. Good wine and old books seem to go together" (115).

Pym writes about expectations, disappointments, small successes, and the routine, often welcomed, of every day life. Her characters are often content with the trajectory of their lives, even when all around them think that they must be wishing for something more.

To dip into a Barbara Pym novel yourself stop by Burling Library.

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