Form and Content
Mother and Son employs an austere narrative style consisting mostly of dialogue to reveal unhealthy patterns within traditional English family life. As with all Compton-Burnett’s work, the subject of this novel is her own childhood in a rigid and autocratic Victorian environment. The narrative features two parallel sets of people; in this case, a household headed by Miranda Hume and another headed by Emma Greatheart. Although Miranda Hume is in failing health, she is still able to bully her husband and children. She seems to dote on her son Rosebery, but she has prevented him from having a life of his own. Her husband prefers the three children of his late brother, who serve as a kind of Greek chorus. The amused and bitter commentary of these children contrasts with the behavior of Rosebery, who basks in his role as his mother’s favorite.
Miranda’s rude and overbearing treatment of Miss Burke, who had hoped to become her paid companion, has led Burke to accept a position as a housekeeper to the neighboring Emma Greatheart. In a parallel move, Hester Wolsey, Emma’s friend, is forced by economic necessity to accept the post as Miranda’s companion. It is she who creates the relationship between the two households. As Miss Wolsey insinuates herself into the Hume family, Miranda declines in health. At a moment when Miranda is particularly unwell, Julius confesses that he is really the father of the three younger children. Miranda, who has...
(The entire section is 559 words.)