'Crampton Hodnet' has a curious history, Pym wrote it in the early days of the war and it was finished by spring 1940 - when she put it in ice. Louis De Bernieres speculates as to why in the introduction; it seems likely that work, love, and war all got in the way, and that when she looked at it again it felt dated, it may also have been that she didn't feel entirely satisfied with it.
Happily Pym kept the manuscript and Hazel Holt rescued it after her death, gave it a bit of a brush up, and it was finally posthumously published in 1985 and now again by Virago. It's a curious book, initially I assumed it had been written just before the war given that the central theme is how little some things change, but 1940 also makes sense and accounts just as well for the distinctly nostalgic edge to the book. After the war 'Crampton Hodnet' probably did feel out of kilter with the mood of the moment, but now it's an absolute delight.
This isn't quite classic Pym though all the ingredients are in place. There are a couple of outrageously camp young men who veer too far into caricature to be really satisfying and the general tone perhaps aims for a broader comedy than in some of her later books but this is a really lovely read. Miss Morrow is a wonderful creation; a thirty something spinster working as a ladies companion to a far more forceful spinster, the elderly, and perfectly foul, Miss Doggett. Miss Morrow's lot is hardly an enviable one but her sense of humour carries her through. The arrival of Mr Latimer a handsome, as well as eligible, curate in the Doggett household seems at first to offer a promise of change, maybe even romantic escape for Miss Morrow and if it wasn't for Crampton Hodnet maybe there would have been romance.
Miss Morrow is definitely an excellent woman so when she hears Mr Latimer tell a not very convincing lie it's a shock to her - curates should be above such things,, and after that I couldn't see Mr Latimer as deserving Miss Morrow at all. The other major strand in the plot concerns the marriage of Francis and Margaret Cleveland. Francis is a good looking middle aged Don, Margaret has reached a point where her husband is a thing to be taken for granted and not entirely seriously. Their marriage has basically been a success but the romance is a distant memory when an attractive young student threatens to upset everything.
Barbara Bird adores Francis but would far rather he stayed on a pedestal, when he starts to reciprocate her feelings in a classic mid life crisis it turns out to be not at all what she wanted all of which is rather hard on Francis and Margaret as they become the source of North Oxford gossip. It all becomes rather a mess, but to much change is unthinkable, life has a rhythm in a university city; the students come and go but are essentially always the same, escape may be possible for the Mr Latimer's of the world, but for the rest of them things will carry on much as they always have. I think this may be destined to be my favourite Pym.