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Ivy Compton-Burnett

(1884—1969) novelist


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(1884–1969)

British novelist. She was created a DBE in 1967.

Ivy Compton-Burnett was born in Pinner, Middlesex, the daughter of a homoeopathic doctor and his second wife. The family was deeply split, with the five children of the first wife strongly antagonistic towards their stepmother and her seven children. Similar situations involving large families are a staple of Compton-Burnett novels.

While Ivy Compton-Burnett was reading classics at Royal Holloway College (1902–06), her favourite brother, Guy, died of pneumonia (1905). Her tyrannical mother then compelled her to act as governess to her younger sisters at Hove, a period of deep frustration during which Compton-Burnett wrote her first novel, Dolores (1911). Even after her mother's death (1911), dissension and tragedy dogged the family: the younger sisters, rebelling against Ivy's authoritarianism, moved to London and barred her from their new home; Noel, Ivy's other brother, was killed on the western front (1916); in 1917 the two youngest Compton-Burnett sisters committed suicide. It was not until 1919 that Ivy found a stable and happy domestic life with the writer Margaret Jourdain, with whom she lived until the latter's death (1951).

From the late 1920s until her death Ivy Compton-Burnett produced a new novel almost every two years. Their titles reveal her preoccupation with domestic scenes and family strife: Brothers and Sisters (1929), More Women than Men (1933), A House and Its Head (1935), Parents and Children (1941), A Father and his Fate (1957), to name just a few. Most of the action is carried on through the characters' conversation, at which Compton-Burnett excelled. This skill in writing dialogue makes her books eminently suitable for radio and many have been adapted for broadcasting.

Subjects: Literature.


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Works by Ivy Compton-Burnett

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