Study Guide

Mother and Son

by Ivy Compton-Burnett

Mother and Son Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Miss Burke, who has applied for the post of paid companion to Miranda Hume, finds her so rude and overbearing that she feels obliged to refuse to continue the interview with the rigid and autocratic potential employer. Instead, Miss Burke blunders into the neighboring house and accepts a position as a housekeeper to Emma Greatheart, who lives with her cat, Plautus, and her old schoolfriend, Hester Wolsey. However, Hester feels forced by economic necessity to get a job, despite her friend’s willingness to provide support, and applies for the still-available position as companion to the austere and forbidding Miranda. Hester is given the position without an interview.

Although Miranda continues to fail in health, she still finds the strength to bully and intimidate her family. Her general hostility excludes, however, her son, Rosebery, on whom she dotes and who remains loyal instead of striking out on his own. However, her husband, Julius, prefers the three children of his late brother—Francis, Alice, and Adrien—who have become his wards. Their alienation from Miranda’s regime, reflected in their bitter jokes, is a marked contrast to the behavior of Rosebery, who basks in his role as his mother’s favorite. As Miranda’s health declines further, Hester is drawn deeper into the family circle.

At a moment when Miranda is particularly unwell, her husband decides to confess that he is in reality not the guardian but the father of the three younger children. Miranda, who has based her life on a belief in her own godlike omniscience, dies as a consequence of the shock and fury she feels at the thought of her husband’s secret past. The confession of Julius, which can be said to have been a murder weapon, and Miranda’s consequent death are...

(The entire section is 726 words.)