Wednesday 10 June 2020

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey (1946)

Miss Pym’s mission in life had been to teach schoolgirls to speak French, which she had done for four years until her remaining parent died and left her two hundred and fifty pounds a year. Lucy supplemented her living by giving French lessons from time to time and spent her spare hours reading books on psychology. After reading thirty-seven volumes on the subject, she wrote a rebuttal  of what she considered was idiotic nonsense.
By chance her writing came to the attention of a publisher at a time when the intellectual world had tired of Freud and his ilk and, recognising the appeal that Lucy’s fresh approach to the area of psychology would have, he had her writing published.
Lucy Pym became an overnight bestseller and found herself in demand as a speaker. Life was comfortable, cultured, and pleasant.
A few months after her new found fame as an author, she received a letter from an old school friend, Henrietta, asking her to come and address her students at the Physical College where she was headmistress.
Initially her stay was only an overnight one but the young women enjoyed her company and urged her to stay longer and she did.

'Young in years a few of her acquaintances might be, but they were already bowed down with the weight of the world’s wrongs and their own importance. It was nice to meet a morning-of-the-world youngness for a change.'

'Why should she go back to London yet? What was there to take her back? Nothing and nobody. For the first time that fine, independent, cushioned, celebrated life of hers looked just a little bleak. A little narrow and inhuman. Could it be? Was there, perhaps, a lack of warmth in that existence she had been so content with?'

The crime doesn’t occur until the latter part of Miss Pym Disposes so most of the narrative is taken up with the relationships between the students and the various staff members at the College, their  personalities, and Lucy's interaction with them personally.
I really liked this character assessment of a staff member who couldn’t get beyond her own background and past disappointments. She was unable to clearly see things because of this. Her view was distorted or blurred - she had mental astigmatism.

‘ can one reduce a mental astigmatism like that? She is quite honest about it, you see. She is one of the most honest persons I have ever met. She really ‘sees’ the thing like that...everything that is admirable and deserving, and thinks we are prejudiced and oppositious. How can one alter a thing like that?’

‘Up to a point she was shrewd and clear-minded, and beyond that she suffered from...’astigmatism’; and for mental astigmatism nothing could be done.’

There was a good bit of suspense throughout the book that has the reader waiting for some nasty crime to occur but it happens in a low key way so much of the 'action' is based on getting to know the various characters, and I enjoyed this aspect. Inspector Alan Grant isn’t a character in this story so it was up to Miss Pym to play amateur detective using her psychological insights to find a motive and a suspect.
Her investigations concluded, the crime atoned for, she is ready to return home when an surprise revelation reveals the true culprit.
As she gets in the taxi to return to London she makes a decision:

' London she would stay. In London was her own, safe, nice, calm, collected existence, and in future she would be content with it. She would even give up lecturing on psychology.
What did she know about psychology anyhow?
As a psychologist she was a first-rate teacher of French.'

Josephine Tey spent three years at a Physical Training College in Birmingham, England, herself, and one of the incidents from her life as a teacher is used in this novel. This was the only one of her crime novels that I hadn’t read so now I’m done (sniff!) I enjoyed this one; it is quite humorous in places but I did miss Inspector Grant.

Linking to Back to the Classics 2020: Classic With a Name in the Title


mudpuddle said...

i was sad also when i finished reading her mysteries... she wrote under several pseudonyms also, but i haven't ventured into those unknown seas yet... someday....

Sharon Wilfong said...

I'm with mudpuddle. She wrote too few mysteries. What I like is how she did not follow a formula. Each story was different. This story was not what I was expecting and the end came as a punch. I also like how imperfect her protagonists are. They think they know what's going on and find out they don't.

Hope you're safe and sound in Australia. Are you all allowed to get out and about?

Carol said...

Hi Mudpuddle, I wonder how many more Inspector Grant books she might have written if she'd lived another decade or two.

Carol said...

Hi Sharon, yes, all her books have been quite different for each other. I like her imperfect characters, too. It makes them very relatable!
Everything here is very slowly opening up - a bit more concessions from tomorrow but we still won't be able to have church meetings for a while. So appreciative that we have the technology for working from home and connecting with people we can't actually meet with yet.
Hope Derek is going well in China.

Carol said...

Social distancing is still in place, Sharon, but now that more shops are opening up it doesn't always work in practice. There are restrictions on how many people may visit your home which will be increased tomorrow to ?10.

Brian Joseph said...

The structure of this sounds different from a typical mystery. Stories about authors are also a popular literary device and it sounds interesting how the two are combined here. I have not read Tey but I would like to give her a try.

Carol said...

Hi Brian, as Sharon said above, she didn’t follow a formula in her writing. I’m always surprised with how her books work out.