I. Compton-Burnett

By Pamela Hansford Johnson | Go to book overview

I. COMPTON-BURNETT

HOME TRUTHS

WHEN Pastors and Masters appeared in 1925 one or two critics admired; the others, for the most part, could not understand how such stuff came to be written. To adopt an attitude of superiority towards these others would be the absurdity of wisdom after the event. The marvel is not in the critics who failed to appreciate I. Compton-Burnett from the word Go, but in the almost superhuman perspicacity of the critics who did not fail.

This was the age of Mrs. Meyrick the night-club queen, Tallulah Bankhead, Vile Bodies; of The Waste Land, Aldous Huxley, Lawrence, and Joyce; of Russian boots, bottle parties, pogo-sticks, and the epicene silhouette. It was the hopeful year of the first Labour Ministry, the return to the Gold Standard, the Locarno Conference. It saw the publication of Mrs. Dalloway, Wells Christina Alberta's Father and Huxley These Barren Leaves. Into this year, into this world, and unrelated in any way to its realities, fantasies, hopes, and fears, came this small, quiet, blistering book, entirely without pictures--at that time the novelist did not bother in the slightest with visual presentation--but almost solid with conversations. The action (dated by the mention of female suffrage) took place later than in the subsequent novels, though the atmosphere of Pastors and Masters in no way differs from that of its successors. The action of the other books took place, presumably, somewhere between 1890 and 1910: as good a background as any for the chill and incisive pronouncement of permanent truths which, in the hush of these dream parlours and umbrageous kitchens, these wintry schoolrooms, were more jolting to the mind than a flood of bad language let loose in comparable circumstances.

The peculiar charm of Miss Compton-Burnett's novels, the charm that has won her not merely admirers but addicts, lies in her speaking of home-truths. She achieves this by a

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I. Compton-Burnett
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Home Truths 7
  • Emotion and Intellect 11
  • Character and Character-Type 14
  • The Novels 19
  • The Writer's Theory 24
  • The Critical Reception 35
  • A Summing-Up 37
  • A Bibliography 44
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