Quartet in Autumn and the Meaning of Barbara Pym

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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  • 1 Professor of History and Swanlund Endowed Chair at the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign, USA aburton@illinois.edu
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Abstract

Barbara Pym's fiction has been viewed as an anthropological approach to the social mores of postwar Britain. In this article, I use one of her last novels, Quartet in Autumn, to sharpen that reading to think through how Pym articulated an aesthetics of decline by trumpeting the dying world of the White English spinster. Quartet fictionalizes the agony of what Ramon Soto-Crespo calls “decapitalized Whiteness,” that is, where economic loss and a sense of racial disenfranchisement go hand in hand. The transatlantic desire it satisfied for a world that was lost yet redeemable through good old-fashioned English “women's” literature prefigures the nostalgia for a preglobal Britain that has underwritten much of Brexit's affective appeal.

Contributor Notes

Antoinette Burton is Professor of History and Swanlund Endowed Chair at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she directs the Humanities Research Institute. Her most recent book is Animalia: An Anti-Imperial Bestiary for Our Times, which she coedited with Renisa Mawani (Duke University Press, 2020). Email: aburton@illinois.edu