Written in the later years of Ivy Compton-Burnett’s career and a few years before her death, The Mighty and Their Fall has never been considered a work of literature of first quality. The faults are too numerous and too glaring for such ranking. The Mighty and Their Fall does succeed within what may be called the genre of drawing-room novel—one written more for diversion and entertainment than for great and involved meaning.
The most noticeable element of Compton-Burnett’s style is her use of conversation. Some 90 percent of the work is given in dialogue: short, terse, clipped sentences exchanged between characters with little or no attached explanations to alert the reader about how the utterances are made, what context they have, or even who the speakers are. It is rather as if one were reading the script of a play with little or no stage directions. Experimental, or at least unique, in this respect, The Mighty and Their Fall proceeds with little in common with what is usually identifiable as elements of the novel.
At the same time, the work is structured around moral tension, dilemma, and resolution. In fact, a whole series of such patterns occur, with certain common elements. Lavinia decides to hide her father’s letter from his fiancé as a way to protect him from himself, but her hiding the letter also is an act of selfishness. She fully believes it would be better for her father if he did not remarry; at the same time, she fully believes that her own lot in life, and that of other family members, will also be better if he does not remarry. She performs the act of treachery and is caught.
The pattern is repeated by her own father. Ninian burns the wrong will not so much because he wants the major portion of Ransom’s inheritance upon his death but because, so he reasons, his family will be in better circumstances if Lavinia does not receive the whole lot herself. He, too, is caught and exposed, and therefore must acknowledge his own moral kinship to his daughter, Lavinia.
Upon Lavinia and Hugo’s announcement...
(The entire section is 857 words.)