Ivy Compton-Burnett Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ivy Compton-Burnett was born in London in 1884 to James Compton-Burnett and Katherine, the daughter of Rowland Rees, and was educated at Royal Holloway College. Her life was marked by grief, tragedy, isolation, and near madness. By the end of World War I, she had lost her home, her occupation, and everyone she had loved or needed. However, throughout her life Compton-Burnett was able to draw on her past for material and to translate her personal loss into literary achievement.{$S[A]Burnett, Ivy Compton;Compton-Burnett, Ivy}

Two items indirectly related to her life are important to anyone who wishes to trace her development as an artist. Her first novel was published in 1911 as Dolores. It is said to celebrate the beauty of sacrifice for the good of others. Certainly the mature Compton-Burnett, who after a fourteen-year literary silence published Pastors and Masters, repudiated the ideas and style of her first novel. Sometimes enlightenedly selfish, she was never attracted by self-sacrifice. The mature Compton-Burnett would call such a concept hypocrisy and self-deceit.

Though in the novels that follow Pastors and Masters there are notable and delightful variations in technique and substance, Compton-Burnett changed her ideas and her technique less than any other British novelist of the twentieth century. She was mature as both novelist and philosopher when she published her first mature work, and she modified herself...

(The entire section is 551 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ivy Compton-Burnett always thought she would write, even when she was quite young. She came from a well-to-do family: Her father, James Compton Burnett (no hyphen), was a doctor and direct descendant of the ecclesiastical writer Bishop Gilbert Burnett. Ivy adored her father and from him inherited a love of words and of nature. Her mother, Katharine Rees Compton-Burnett, was the second wife of her father: Katharine became stepmother to five children at marriage and mother of seven more, of whom Ivy was the eldest. Katharine seems to have been the prototype for several of the tyrants in Compton-Burnett’s works: She was beautiful, autocratic, indifferent to her stepchildren and distant to her own. The real mother to the children was their nurse, Minnie. Olive, the eldest of all the children, was bitterly jealous of her stepmother and of Ivy for her close relationship with their father.

Compton-Burnett’s closest companions were her two younger brothers, Guy and Noel (Jim). The three were educated together, first by a governess and then by a tutor, and Compton-Burnett always remained proud that she had had a boy’s education. She loved Latin and Greek. In 1902, she entered Royal Holloway College, London University; in 1904, she was awarded the Founder’s Scholarship; in 1906, she passed the bachelor of arts honors examination in the classics. Her love of the classics appears clearly in her works: Her plots, with their recurring motifs of incest and family murder, seem straight from Greek tragedy; her characters often allude to Greek tragedy; her view of life as...

(The entire section is 643 words.)