Last December, when Dutton published her ''No Fond Return of Love,'' I went overboard in my enthusiasm for Barbara Pym - the late English novelist who for years was practically unnoticed in her own country and completely unnoticed in America. It wasn't until 1980, about 30 years after she wrote the first book, that her quiet, witty stories began trickling across the Atlantic.
Now ''Some Tame Gazelle,'' the first novel she wrote and the last to be available here, has been published. One of my favorites, it turns a shrewd, mocking, but always affectionate eye on English country life 30 years ago. Pym's fans will feel completely at home when they step into the Jane Austen-like lives of Harriet and Belinda Bede, loving middle-aged sisters, whose concerns revolve around the social life of the village church. Shy, romantic, but no fool, Belinda is devoted to a married archdeacon, fully aware of how stuffy he is, while ''plump, elegant'' Harriet pours her mother love over a succession of weedy young curates.
Love has long been one of Pym's favorite themes - love that has nothing to do with sex and that flourishes only when it is hopeless. In fact, the theme of ''Some Tame Gazelle'' is summed up in the faintly comic, faintly sad lines by Thomas Haynes Bayly: ''Some tame gazelle, or some gentle dove,/ Something to love, oh, something to love."