'A Carefully Worded Postcard: Epistolary Economy in the Novels of Barbara Pym

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Postcards appear as embedded small epistolary events within a range of Barbara Pym's novels. In today's digital age of instant social media and electronic messaging, the postcard is fast becoming anachronistic. The form represents a slower pace of life with delayed communication, which characterizes both Pym's era and the faltering romances that structure her fiction. Postcards may liberate correspondents from the more stringent demands of letter-writing, but careful decisions must nevertheless be made by uncertain writers who craft a message in the face of limited space, lack of confidentiality and potential close reading by sometimes eager recipients. The form may be circumscribed, but postcards can layer ambiguous meanings despite their construction of few words within a tight textual frame. Sending a postcard may subtly lever open lines of communication that are resisted when face-to-face. They can explicitly acknowledge a level of familiarity or potential intimacy that is not acknowledged in personal encounters. Pym's habitually cautious characters therefore make tentative epistolary overtures to choose and write postcards that are seldom casually sent. This essay explores the ways in which Pym (a keen correspondent herself) uses the brevity and semi-public form of postcards to negotiate hesitant social and romantic relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-383
Number of pages13
JournalWomen: A Cultural Review
Issue number4
Early online date20 Dec 2014
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Dec 2014


  • Barbara Pym
  • epistolary
  • media
  • postal
  • postcards
  • romance


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