Felicity and Barbara Pym is a cross-genre (fiction & non-fiction) literary work that has its roots in Harrison Solow’s own search as an undergraduate for “ a magnificently unified microcosm” of the world. Felicity is the silent fictional student with a “happy disregard” for centuries of interrelated scholarship intrinsic to a liberal arts education, including a disregard for the tools of study and a blithe preoccupation with the present. As Harrison Solow says, Barbara Pym’s work is hardly at the heart of a liberal education, but she is the antithesis to this prevailing attitude and her work has been undervalued. Appreciation is not perhaps what universities requests of students, says Solow, but this book is a work of literary appreciation via reasonable examination based on the premise that all subjects are interrelated.
What appear to be books about “Silly men, Mousy women, Tea, Religion, Quotations,” books in which apparently “nothing happens” are in fact novels that open up the world, novels that deal with youth, feminism, scepticism, cynicism, thoughtlessness, expectation, and so much more, concealed within “the economy of expression Miss Pym employs.” So writes the protagonist, Mallory Cooper to her reluctant literature student, Felicity. Beautifully observed, Felicity and Barbara Pym is a rare thing – a book of non-fiction that is also fictional, creative and literary in its own right. Written in an epistolary style, the narrator impresses on her pupil the importance of small things – “Minutia is their sustenance and their charm, which is why Pym is so essentially English,” she writes.