Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Pastors and Masters is the first of Ivy Compton-Burnett’s novels to establish her characteristic style and subject matter. This novel introduces her distinctive use of dialogue and her satiric depiction of Victorian institutions. Her heroine, Emily Herrick, is singled out for her perspicacity, which brings with it a loss of innocence and trust.

One of the goals of this slender novel is to satirize the institutions of church, school, and family. The novel begins in a school for boys run by Mr. Merry, who manages to both bully and neglect the forty boys in his charge. These boys are largely nameless, faceless victims of incompetence and arbitrary power. The questioning of masculine authority in the person of Mr. Merry is broadened to include Henry Bentley, father of two of the schoolboys and domestic tyrant. The church is also depicted as an imperfect and narrowly patriarchal institution. The values of the Reverend Fletcher and his family ratify masculine authority and require endless sacrifice on the part of their women.

The main purpose and plot of the novel, however, concerns the raising of Emily Herrick’s consciousness. This aspect of the novel leads the reader to her brother Nicholas, who is the absentee owner of the school run by Mr. Merry. Nicholas and his friends Richard Bumpus and William Masson shared a tutor in college referred to as old Crabbe. Nicholas has told his two friends, who are now dons at the university, that,...

(The entire section is 594 words.)