Pastors and Masters Essay - Masterplots II: Women’s Literature Series Pastors and Masters Analysis

Ivy Compton-Burnett

Masterpieces of Women's Literature Pastors and Masters Analysis

Pastors and Masters signals the reemergence of a talent that had lain dormant for fourteen years. Stunned by the tragedies that beset her family, including the suicide of two sisters, the death of two brothers in World War I, and the fragmentation of her large Victorian family, Ivy Compton-Burnett underwent a period of recuperation and reassessment that brought about a transformation of her style and values. Pastors and Masters liberated her from her major precursor, George Eliot, whose earnest Victorian values influenced Compton-Burnett’s first novel Dolores (1911). Pastors and Masters, however, reaches back for inspiration to the lively and comic approach of Jane Austen, who is singled out for tribute during one of Pastors and Masters’ many conversations. The novel’s interest in authorship and in those who copy or repeat the past suggests that, on one level, Compton-Burnett was asserting her own claims to originality. Although Austen is an important influence on her work, Compton-Burnett’s work is her own. Pastors and Masters is the first of her unique “dialogue” novels, which feature virtually disembodied voices whose talk constitutes the narrative. Because there is little exposition, the reader must draw his or her own inferences, much as Emily does when she silently observes the behavior and the talk of her brother and his friends. Although this novel remains more of a sketch than her other novels do, it contains within its slender plot all of her important themes and narrative strategies.

The title Pastros and Masters reflects the novel’s theme—masculine authority. In short order, Compton-Burnett questions the masculine power structure in religion, education, and the family. The pastors of the title are portrayed as intensely conservative men whose God is a father-figure with several serious character flaws. Emily describes him as not only arrogant,...

(The entire section is 797 words.)