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Ivy Compton-Burnett

Barbara Hardy

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The first fully detailed and critically contextualised study of the novels of Ivy Compton-Burnett

Ivy Compton-Burnett is a strikingly original novelist, writing conversation-novels in which talk is the medium and subject. She is innovative like Joyce and Woolf but more accessible and less theoretical, a modernist unawares. She makes readers think and her terse cool witty style reminds us that the novel is an art. To read most living writers of fiction after reading her is to feel novelists have become lazy and made their readers lazy. She requires attention, and she doesn’t write to pass the time or invite identification, but she is amusing and challenging.

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About the Author

Born and brought up in Swansea, I was educated in Terrace Road School, Swansea High School for Girls, and University College London. I am a fellow of the British Academy, Welsh Academy, Royal Society of Literature, Birkbeck College, University College, University of Swansea, University of Wales, and Swansea Metropolitan University, Honorary Member of the Modern Languages association and have Hon. Doctorate from the Open University, for which I was proud to be one of the first examiners. I have written literary criticism, marked by close readings of fiction, discussion of life-narrative, lyric, Shakespeare, Victorian fiction, twentieth-century fiction and poetry. My first book George Eliot: A Study in Form (1959; Rose Mary Crawshay Prize) arguing the case for George Eliot’s art, is still in print. I have published three collections of poetry: Severn Bridge (Shoestring), The Yellow Carpet (Shoestring), and Dante’s Ghosts (Paekakariki), a memoir, Swansea Girl (Peter Owen and Seren), a novel, London Lovers (Sagittarius Prize), and short stories, Dorothea’s Daughters and Other Nineteenth-century Postscripts. Publications include an anthology of Poetry, London Rivers, (with Kate Hardy), edited collections of essays, novels for Everyman and Penguin, academic articles and reviews in most important academic and popular UK journals, including TLS, TES, THES, Spectator, New Statesman, Vogue and Daily Telegraph. More information of my career can be found in the Festschrift, Form and Feeling in Modern Literature: Essays in Honour of Barbara Hardy, Legenda, 2013, ed. William Baker with Isobel Armstrong. Bloomsbury Academic have just re-published or will shortly re-publish three early books, Middlemarch: Collected Essays, The Advantage of Lyric,and Tellers and Listeners: The Narrative Imagination.


Barbara Hardy's account of Ivy Compton-Burnett's writing is as witty and probing as the author she studies. Hardy writes with flair and compassion about a writer full of powerful contradictions. She sends the reader back to the novels newly alert to their tonic insights and their fierce comedy.

- Dame Gillian Beer, University of Cambridge

Barbara Hardy's brilliantly incisive reading of Ivy Compton-Burnett's fiction will be a revelation. In her hands Compton-Burnett's lethally laconic writing takes on poetic intensity and social meaning. Hardy reveals its Brechtian coolness, its simultaneously classical and postmodern complexity, its language games, its scandalously detached way of probing the scandalous. The secrets and lies, the power relations of everyday life exposed in the handing of a cup of tea or the cutting of a cake come alive for us. A startling narrative imagination, devastating and profound, a major novelist of our time, emerges from this tour de force of criticism.

- University of London, Isobel Armstrong

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