Quartet in Autumn
|1 September 1977|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||224 pp (hardback edition) & 192 pp (paperback edition)|
|ISBN||0-333-22778-6 (hardback edition) & ISBN 0-330-32648-1 (paperback edition)|
|LC Class||PZ4.P9965 Qar PR6066.Y58|
Quartet in Autumn is a novel by British novelist Barbara Pym, first published in 1977. It was highly praised and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, the top literary prize in the UK. This was considered a comeback novel for Pym; she had fallen out of favor as styles changed, and her work had been rejected by publishers for 15 years. This followed her successful record as a novelist during the 1950s and early 1960s. As a novel, it represents a departure from her earlier style of light comedy, as it is the story of four office workers on the verge of retirement.
Marcia, Letty, Norman and Edwin all work together in the same office. None is married (Edwin being a widower) and each is nearing retirement age. Letty has plans to share a country retreat with her longtime friend, Marjorie. Her hopes are dashed when Marjorie suddenly announces that she is to marry a clergyman some years younger than she.
After Marcia and Letty retire, each is faced with challenges. Letty suddenly has to move and Marcia has to deal with a loss of the routine that was an essential part of her life. Marcia gradually withdraws from the outside world, while Letty has to engage with it. Marcia eventually gives up eating and dies in pathetic circumstances. She has unexpectedly left her estate to Norman, in whom she had indulged a brief and secret semi-romantic interest.
When Marjorie's fiancé deserts her for a younger widow, Letty and her friend decided to take the country cottage after all. By now she has come to terms with retirement, her world has expanded, and so she does not immediately move. She realizes that she has opportunities to make her own choices. Norman and Edwin play less central roles in the "quartet," as their characters develop in response to the absences and actions of Marcia and Letty.
At the end of the book, Letty is looking forward to inviting Norman and Edwin to meet Marjorie in the country. She thinks this would be a huge "opportunity" for the quartet, which was previously so urban and parochial, even though they have lost Marcia.
Awards and nominations
The novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.