Readers' Guide: Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

Quartet in Autumn

by: Barbara Pym

Category: FICTION
Guide Created By: JoanP
Discussion Leader(s): JoanP and Pedln
Read our discussion of this book

Book Description Book cover for Excellent Women Quartet in Autumn, written in 1977, short-listed for the Man Booker prize in 1980, considers four unmarried co-workers, as they face retirement years, making do with limited resources. Pym is fascinated by the vision of life without emotional attachment and solitude.

Relevant Links

Barbara Pym Biography Barbara Pym Society

Subversion from Behind a Teacup" by Catherine Wallace (a must-read!)

Hazel K. Bell's comprehensive Index of Barbara Pym's writings

Discussion Questions

Chapters 1 - 11
1. Here we have four very different characters, each important to the development of the story. Does any one of the four stand out more than the others? Which one made the most impression on you?

2. How does this office foursome view one another?

3. This book is set in the 1970's and written almost 20 years after Excellent Women. Does anything initially make you aware of that?

4. Do you find this a different type of book compared to Excellent Women? Do the two have similar qualities? How would you compare Midred Lathbury with Letty Crowe?

5. Have you noted any of the references to "autumn" in these chapters? What is the feeling these references convey?

Chapters 12 - Final Chapter - End
1. Do you agree most retirement parties are depressing? "Why does one feel sorry for men who retire, not women," Pym asks. What will they DO after retirement? Have Letty or Marcia given any thought to this question? Are they looking forward to it?

2. Who is the protagonist here? Is there one?

3. Marcia has certainly declined since retirement. But what about the others? Do you notice any changes in them, for better or for worse?

4. Norman is frequently referred to as an "odd little man" by those he meets for the first time. Why do you suppose that iis? Why do you think he went to Marcia's house, but did not make himself known?

5. Do you think the two men exhibit more concern for Marcia and Letty than the women do for them? Why would Marcia leave her house to Norman? Will he keep it?

6. Did you ever anticipate Marcia's demise? What effect did her cremation service have on the other three? On you?

7. What effect did Marjorie's character have on the story?

8. If you had to name the most uplifting scene in the book, what would it be? The most humorous?

Final Questions
1. Why do you think Barbara Pym chose "Quartet in Autumn" as the title for this book? Do you feel the four were activing "in concert" with one another?

2. What do you see as Pym's intention in writing this novel? Do you see a rather bleak portrayal of four individuals or rather the satire of a society that limits their retirement prospects? Does the author exhibit sympathy towards her characters?

3. Do you think the differences in tone between [Excellent Women and Quartet in Autumn are due to the ages of the unmarried women in each book or the periods in which they live?