Encompassing more time than any other Ivy Compton-Burnett novel, A HERITAGE AND ITS HISTORY is, in a sense, the most representative of all her novels, although it is not quite her best. The heritage, as Compton-Burnett’s readers and those who have studied their ancestors’ lives will recognize, is the complex genetic and social inheritance of what man calls good and evil tendencies. It is the virtues and the sins of the fathers that are visited upon all generations; although the current generation lives in its own day, what it does has been done by all of its forebears, as Rhoda and Sir Edwin say and as parts of the Bible imply. In its encompassment of universalized and eternalized human activity in three generations, as in its inclusion of the wise butler and the excessively precocious children as commentators upon the sensational and usual events the dialogue of the novel advances, A HERITAGE AND ITS HISTORY is Compton-Burnett at her most representative. Because in presenting more characters and times than usual, she leaves even the alert reader occasionally baffled, the novel, though excellent, is inferior to its immediate predecessor, A FATHER AND HIS FATE, and its two successors, THE MIGHTY AND THEIR FALL and A GOD AND HIS GIFTS.
It is not, as indeed it is not usually, of the utmost importance to give the intriguing complexity of the plot, which as one critic once said of another of her novels, combines...
(The entire section is 1556 words.)
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