Date of Award

Winter 1998

Project Type


Program or Major

English Literature

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Jean Kennard


The project of this dissertation is to place Barbara Pym's realism in the context of modernism, anti-modernism, and postmodernism in the twentieth-century English novel. My argument is not that Pym is a late modernist or that she is, per se, a long-lost Postmodernist. She is a realist who has learned the lessons of the former and whose traditional, linear narratives are punctuated by moments of awareness to the fragmented nature of identity and by blips of authorial acknowledgement and even laughter over the simultaneous separation and blending of the text world in which characters live with the "real" worlds of the author and the reader. The remaining chapters that follow proceed in a manner of accretion and expansion, as I further define the descriptive narrative categories I broach in the Introduction by means of providing close readings of Pym's own narratives. In Chapter I, I look at Pym's diaries and letters as discursive embodiments of her earliest narrative attempts to make sense of identity, romantic love, and the fictive process in terms of the cultural narratives explored and exposed by such postmodern theorists as Mikhail Bakhtin and Peter Brooks. In Chapter II, I more thoroughly interrogate the realisms of Austen and Woolf and then offer a reading of Excellent Women as an example of the ways in which Pym uses her knowledge of both authors to create her own narrative paradigm. Chapter III looks at Jane and Prudence, No Fond Return of Love, A Few Green Leaves, and Less than Angels in order to emphasize Pym's thematic and stylistic commitment to detachment as a means of standing back from life in order to record it, savour it, and even protect oneself from it, and then in the act of discursive distancing actually reconnecting to community. And Chapter IV then engages An Unsuitable Attachment , The Sweet Dove Died, and Quartet in Autumn as examples of Pym's comic, novel-of manners brand of postmodern ontology as defined by Brian McHale.