The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym by Paula Byrne

“The agony of wondering if he will send a Christmas card!” The 20th-century British novelist Barbara Pym confided this pain to her diary, but it reflects the essence of so much of her fiction and her life: a genteel spinster besotted with an unattainable (i.e., indifferent, married, or gay) man, living in the excruciating hope of a scrap of kindness, acknowledgment.

And yet, the reader smiles, too. In the eight novels published during her life, Pym knitted gentle social comedies set in the world of church halls, dreary bedsits, and prim studies of archdeacons and anthropologists, where middle-class women find their life’s work smoothing the paths of men they silently adore, tidying up after them, hoping for a kind word.