Ivy Compton-Burnett

Picture of Ivy's mouth

> BBC interview, 1960

> A conversation with Margaret Jourdain, 1945

> Studs Terkel interviews Ivy Compton-Burnett, 1962 (You can hear this interview by selecting the Real Audio file terkel-a0a1j3-b.rm in the section titled "Terkel comments and presents Talking To Myself - Part 1." You can also read this interview at amazon.com.)


An Interview with Ivy Compton-Burnett*

Excerpts from the BBC Home Programme, 17 September 1960

John Bowen: Miss Compton-Burnett, you are a writer who over the years has built up a very devoted following, and indeed I am one [of those followers]. And yet it is undeniable that there are many other people who find your books difficult — you might say impossible to read, and one of the reasons for this is that you have deliberately discarded the usual narrative techniques of fiction, and confined yourself to writing almost entirely in dialogue.... Is this simply the only way you find you can write, or have you made a kind of deliberate choice to write in this way for a particular reason?

Ivy Compton-Burnett: Well I think it's the natural way for me to write, the way I write naturally, but I think in some of the books, especially in some of the earlier ones, there is a certain amount of writing that isn't dialogue. But, my books seem to me to be something between a novel and a play.

[ . . . ]

Bowen: This not putting any descriptive writing in, this form that in fact comes natural to you — would you say that you have a great lack of interest in landscape or in the appearances of people?

Compton-Burnett: No, I shouldn't say that because I enjoy Hardy's descriptions very much, and some descriptions very much, some of Conrad's descriptions — and I do describe my people once which seems to me to be enough.

Bowen: Shortly usually.

Compton-Burnett: Yes, shortly. But then, however people describe their characters I think the readers — each reader — has his own conception, his own picture of the character. Don't you think so? I think he only wants just a little guidance to get his own picture which should be his anyhow, I don't think a page of description would help him.

[ . . . ]

Bowen: What about the American graduate students who descent with tape recorders, and are always wanting to write a thesis on your work.

Compton-Burnett: I haven't had a great many. But they do descend sometimes, yes, not only American, they came from — I've had them from the Continent, you know people take English as a special subject, and are told by their Director of Studies, I think that's what they call them generally, that they're to write about a certain subject. They don't always choose it themselves.

Bowen: And they interview you? — very much as I'm doing now.

Compton-Burnett: Well — I think they want a little bit more help. In fact I really think what they want is for you to write their thesis for them.


*The complete interview appears in Twentieth Century Literature, vol. 25, no. 2 (Summer 1979).

NEXT PAGE: A conversation with Margaret Jourdain, 1945