Known as a novelist’s novelist, Ivy Compton-Burnett is much appreciated by her peers. She has been compared by her partisans to figures as various as Jane Austen, Jean Racine, Henry James, Leo Tolstoy, George Eliot, Anton Chekhov, the Elizabethan tragedians, William Congreve, Oscar Wilde, George Meredith, Elizabeth Gaskell, Harold Pinter, and the cubists. Her appeal is to a growing circle of admirers, though her work has enjoyed neither popular adulation nor widespread critical attention. Her novels require slow and attentive reading and make heavy demands on the reader, yet they do not offer the inviting depths of works such as James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1929). Compton-Burnett’s modernism is of a different kind: Her works present hard and brittle surfaces, and her style reaches its purest expression in pages of unbroken dialogue, highly stylized and crackling with suppressed emotion. Her uncompromising artistry won for her a small but permanent place in twentieth century world literature.
Baldanza, Frank. Ivy Compton-Burnett. New York: Twayne, 1964. Packs much information into a short space. Offers brief characterizations of all the novels, organized around common themes such as home and family. Also analyzes the major evaluations of Compton-Burnett available at that time. Baldana regards Compton-Burnett as the foremost contemporary novelist.
Burkhart, Charles. I. Compton-Burnett. London: Victor Gollancz, 1965. Classes Compton-Burnett as an eccentric novelist and offers a psychological account of this type of writer. Presents themes found in Compton-Burnett’s works, such as conventions, secrets, people and power, and ethos, devoting a chapter to each. Concludes with a summary of each of the novels, ranking Manservant and Maidservant as the most brilliant.
Gentile, Kathy Justice. Ivy Compton-Burnett. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991. A shrewd feminist rereading with chapters on Compton-Burnett’s “ethic of tolerance,” her early novels, her treatment of mothers and martyrs, her view of civilization, her later novels, her reading of human character, and the responses of her critics. A very thorough study, with notes and bibliography.
Kiernan, Robert E. Frivolity Unbound: Six Masters of the Camp Novel—Thomas Love Peacock, Max Beerbohm, Ronald Firbank, E. F. Benson, P. G....
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