However, Sir Edwin surprises everyone by announcing his marriage to Rhoda, his neighbour, also more than 40 years his junior. Following the return from their honeymoon, Rhoda succumbs to a moment of unbridled passion with Simon, her new husband's nephew. When Rhoda falls pregnant, there is no question who has fathered the child.
Sefton and his sister Clemence are dispatched to separate boarding schools. Their father's second marriage, their mother's economies, provide perfect opportunities for mockery, and home becomes a source of shame. More wretched is their mother's insistence that they excel. Their desperate means to please her incite adult opprobrium, but how dit the children learn to deceive?
Here staccato dialogue, brittle aphorisms and an excoriating wit are used to unparalleled and subversive effect ruthlessly to expose the wounds beneath the surface of family life.
Eleanor and Fulbert Sullivan live, with their nine children ranging from nursery to university age, in a huge country house belonging to Fulbert's parents, Sir Jesse and Lady Regan. Sir Jesse sends Fulbert, his only son, on a business mission to South America. News comes of Fulbert's death, and his executor, Ridley Cranmer, plans an impulsive marriage to Eleanor… but is Fulbert really dead? And what is the mystery surrounding the parentage of the three strange Marlowes living in genteel penury on the fringe of the great estate?
"The Last and the First "was" "Ivy Compton-Burnett's final novel. In it she deals with her familiar themes — tyranny, power and corruption. Although the novel was unfinished at the time of her death in 1969, it combines the brilliant wit and incisive insight into human relationships which make her one of the most original novelists in English literature.
With his wife's death, Ninian Middleton turned to his eldest daughter, Lavinia, as a companion. When, some years later, he decides to marry again, a chasm opens in the life of the young girl whose time he has so jealously possessed. Convoluted attempts are made to prevent this marriage? and others? and the seams of intense family relationships are torn, with bitter consequences. Astringent, succinct and always subversive, Ivy Compton-Burnett wields her scalpel-like pen to vehemently dissect the passions and duplicity of the Middleton family.
'I cannot be parted longer from my sons… I am coming back to my home'
Nine years after her divorce from Cassius Clare, Catherine decides to re-enter his life. Her decision causes a dramatic upheaval in the Clare family and its implications are analysed and redefined, not only in the drawing-room, but in the children's nursery and the servants' quarters.
At first, Flavia, Cassius's second wife, feels resentment, fearing that she may be usurped. But as a friendship develops between the two women, it is Cassius who is excluded and whose self-pity intensifies, erupting in a shocking, unexpected way…
At the centre of this novel stands Harriet Haslam, the epitome of the maternal power figure,whose genuine but overpowering love dominates the novel and whose self-knowledge drives her into insanity. Even after her death Harriet continues to dominate.
Surrounding this central figure are a host of marvelously realised characters — Sir Geoffrey Haslam, Harriet's husband, an innocent self-deluder; Dominic Spong, a hypocrite whose platitudes do not quite conceal his powerful self-interest; Agatha Calkin whose benevolent maternalism nearly hides the greediest of drives towards power; Lady Hardistry, the most outrageously witty of all sophisticates; Camilla Christy, a loose woman, dazzling, charming, and corrupt. Unlike Harriet Haslam, who will not spare herself the truth, the others are happier with their lies and can never achieve Harriet's grandeur.
The exacting Miranda's search for a suitable companion brings her family into contact with a very different kind of household, raising a plenitude of questions about the ability to manage alone, the difficulties of living with strangers and some strange discoveries about intimates.
First published in 1963, was the last of Ivy Compton-Burnett's novels to be published in her lifetime and is considered by many to be one of her best. Set in the claustrophobic world of Edwardian upper-class family life, it is the story of the self-willed and arrogant Hereward Egerton. In his marriage to Ada Merton he maintains a veneer of respectability but through his intimate relationships with his sister, Emmeline, and his son's future wife, Hetty, he steps beyond the bounds of conventional morality with both comic and tragic results…
The Donne family's move to the country is inspired by a wish to be close to their cousins, who are to be their nearest neighbours. It proves too close for comfort, however. For a secret switching of wills causes the most genteel pursuit of self-interest to threaten good relations and even good manners…
First published in 1944, Ivy Compton-Burnett employs her sharp ear for comedy and celebrated powers of dialogue to spectacular effect. She reveals a devastating microcosm of human society, in which the elders are by no means always the betters, in which no character is totally scrupulous, but none without their appeal.
Edwin Muir wrote of Ivy Compton-Burnett in the Observer: 'Her literary abilities have been abundantly acknowledged by the majority of her literary contemporaries. Her intense individuality has removed her from the possibility of rivalry.. She takes as her theme the tyrannies and internecine battles of English family life in leisured well-conducted country houses. To Miss Compton-Burnett the family conflict is intimate, unrelenting, very often indecisive and fought out mainly in conversation. The passions which bring distress to her country houses have recently devastated continents.'
To present an image of this totally unique writer, we have to imagine a Jane Austen writing, in the present day, Greek prose tragedies (in which the wicked generally triumph) on late Victorian themes. First published in 1939, conveys, largely through dialogue (which may be subtle, humorous, envenomed, or tragic), the effects of death and inheritance on the house of Gaveston — in particular on the relations between Edgar and his selfless younger brother, Dudley. This, apart from the embittered character of Matilda Seaton, is her kindliest novel.