The World of Barbara Pym (Macmillan Press, 1987)  

Barbara Pym’s world consists, inevitably, of England. And that is primarily the subject of this book: twentieth-century England as Pym saw it, lived in it, satirized it, and felt immensely fond of it. Drawing from extensive reading of the author’s private papers in the Bodleian Library and conversations with many who knew her, Janice Rossen analyzes the fictional world Barbara Pym created, with reference to the world in which she lived and from which she drew, in writing her delightful novels. The World of Barbara Pym defines Pym’s significance within the framework of the modern British novel, traces her development as an artist, explores the interrelations between her life and fiction, and addresses broader themes regarding British culture in her work, such as spinsterhood, anthropology, English literature, the Anglican Church, and Oxford University.  

Philip Larkin: His Life’s Work (Harvester, 1989)
‘Whatever a poet is supposed to look like, it’s not me,’ Larkin once declared in an interview. Nonetheless, during his life he was showered with honours, proclaimed England’s ‘Unofficial Laureate’ (he refused the offer of the actual post), and was widely regarded as having returned poetry to ordinary people, following the elitist literary innovations of such modernists as Pound and Eliot. Drawing on unpublished material, with assistance from many who knew him, this book explores Larkin’s entire oeuvre—his poetry, novels, essays, and jazz criticism. The study begins with a discussion of his transition from novelist to poet, tracing the symbolist aspect of his work in his depiction of nature and addressing the influence of Hardy and Yeats on his poetic style. It addresses Larkin’s celebration of England, turning next to his exasperation over ‘difficulties with girls’ and to his poetic use of coarse language in complaining about life’s innumerable irritations. The final chapter considers the intense fury which he expresses, as he contemplates the approach of death and the opposition which he creates in his poetry between complaints and frustration, ‘toads’ and melancholy. Above all, emphasis is placed on Larkin’s wit—a quality in his work often overlooked in the on-going attempt to fathom such a complex character. Anyone who would claim, of his poetic inspiration, that ’Deprivation is for me what daffodils were to Wordsworth.’ was clearly reveling in his artistic persona.

The University in Modern Fiction: When Power is Academic (Macmillan Press, 1993)
This book explores how novelists portray both the English university and the larger field of academic scholarship throughout the twentieth century. It considers challenges to the university’s power structure from groups such as women, lower-class men, and foreigners—especially Americans. It deals with gender issues, class-consciousness, xenophobia, the politicization of literary scholarship, the novelist’s creative process, rivalry between scholars, and the basic aims of the profession. In short—a conclusion which will surprise no one—within the university structure as a whole (as represented by novelists, at least), those who are outside the privileged circle are desperate to get inside, while those who are inside wish to keep them out. From the poignant tragedy of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, to Kinsley Amis’ classic tale of frustration in Lucky Jim, exclusion is keenly felt. The entrance of women into Oxbridge is explored in Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night and A.S. Byatt’s The Game, and the inner workings of the Senior Common Room are narrowly viewed in C.P. Snow’s The Masters. Malcolm Bradbury and David Lodge virtually invented the new wave of academic satire, in the late twentieth-century, and it only remained for creative writers to gleefully satirize creative writing itself, as taught in a university, as in Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution.

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