A Family and a Fortune
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, A Family of a Fortune 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.
Ivy Compton-Burnett (1884-1969) grew up in Hove and London. She was encouraged by her father, who sadly died from a sudden heart attack when she was sixteen, to read Classics from a young age. She attended Holloway College in London to study Classics and wrote her first novel Delores in 1911. Compton-Burnett suffered several losses after her father - her closest brother died three years later, three more of her younger siblings and her mother passed away by the time she was 35, something she rarely spoke about, but constantly visited in her novels. Compton-Burnett published twenty novels. However, the first of her works to use her mature and original style was published when she was forty, in 1925. Compton-Burnett's fiction is often said to be Edwardian in setting - the domestic occurences in large households. She never married and lived in London as companion to Margaret Jourdain. She was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 1967.