The Characters
of Ivy Compton-Burnett


Picture: The eyes of Ivy


A few of our favorite Ivy Compton-Burnett character descriptions:


Mrs. Spruce had a generous form, a full, florid face, blue, experienced eyes, a round, full chin that melted into a pillar-like neck, and a curved, red mouth whose movements drew and held the eye. Her voice had unusual resonance, her movements a satisfying smoothness, and her smile was sudden and complete. She looked like a girl of twenty who has lived another thirty-nine years. But that is not what she was."

— from Darkness and Day

"Mrs. Gaveston dealt with the coffee with small, pale, stiff hands, looking with querulous affection at her children and signing in a somewhat strained manner to the servant to take the cups. She had rather uncertain movements and made one or two mistakes, which she rectified with a sort of distracted precision. She lifted her face for her children's greetings with an air of forgetting the observance as each one passed, and of being reminded of it by the next. She was a rather tall, very pale woman of about sixty, who somehow gave the impression of being small, and whose spareness of build was without the wiriness supposed to accompany it. She had wavy, grey hair, a long, narrow chin, long, narrow, dark eyes in a stiff, narrow, handsome face, and a permanent air of being held from her normal interest by some passing strain or distraction."

— from A Family and a Fortune

"Sarah Middleton gave him a look that measured both him and his words. She was a ponderous woman in the eighties, whose type had descended to her grandchildren, with a massive face and head, eyes whose penetration seemed incongruous with their darkness and depth, and an expression that varied between grim disillusionment and almost unconscious benevolence. Her white hair and insistent presence gave an impression of looks, though she had none. She had never wished for them, never having suspected any lack in her endowment."

— from The Mighty and Their Fall

"What is the jest?" said Miss Starkie, turning her bright, brown eyes from one to another. She was a short, brisk woman of forty-five, with a full, ruddy face, unrelated features, clothes that were never remembered, though they varied with every occasion..."

— from The Mighty and Their Fall

"The fourth arrival was the only married member of Josephine's staff, a small, harried-looking woman of forty-five, with a small, brown, untidily-featured face, small, brown, flurried hands, unkempt, noticeable clothes, and the alert, enquiring, engaging aspect of some little woodland beast."

— from More Woman than Men