Picture of Ivy when young

Critics on Ivy Compton-Burnett

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"There is nobody in all this writing world even remotely like her."
— Norman Shrapnel, Guardian

"Each new novel is a fresh shock treatment — individual, complete and stunning."
New York Times Book Review

"Miss Compton-Burnett is totally unlike any other novelist. Wit and melodrama have never been so combined before, and the combination is a brilliant success.... She is a unique figure in modern English literature."
— Philip Toynbee

"She has looked at human nature's hidden side, and looked away; but not before writing it down."
— Joanne Hutchinson

"... the most nimble and subtle of living novelists."
New Republic

"There is no book of Miss Compton-Burnett's that has not its violent shock, as trim and tidy as a handgrenade and as destructive potentially."
— Pamela Hansford Johnson

"The most original novelist now writing in English."
— V. S. Pritchett

"... that unique genius of our age, Ivy Compton-Burnett, gripping, madly comic, enraging and wise."
— Martin Seymour Smith, Oxford Mail

"Her specialty is a kind of surgical operation upon family life. Through her, we see it starlingly stripped of its more amiable pretensions. Parents and children, servants and masters, engage in a queer kind of verbal warfare bristling with innuendo and even with a candor that slashes to the quick. Her revelation of character ... [is] built upon a searching yet serene anlysis of the egotisms, envies, irascibilities that are part of domestic intercourse. By reason of her accurate avoidance of all pretense or idealism, her people actually become ... almost heroic, and vividly if bitterly funny."
New York Herald Tribune

"The heights and depts of character are laid bare in the drawing room: Aeschylus has been transposed into the key of Jane Austen."
London Times

"These conversations are among the most remarkable in English literature. They are like life and also they are not like life at all."
— Hugh Walpole on Brothers and Sisters

"It is as if one's next door neighbour leaned over the garden wall, and remarked, in the same breath and chatty tone, that he had mown the lawn in the morning and thrust the wife's head in the gas-oven after lunch."
The Church Times on A House and Its Head

"As for Pastors and Masters, it is astonishing, alarming. It is like nothing else in the world. It is a work of genius.... The canvas is crowded; the conversation is close-packed; the unconscious self-revelation of the characters extraordinary. No quotation could do this book justice; the flavour is in the whole; and it is worth discovering there."
New Statesman

"Her novels are full of vigor and mischief. They are wildly funny as well as sharply wise."
New York Herald Tribune

"Her scalpel-sharp pen performed startling surgery on the accepted concept of genteel family life."
Sunday Telegraph

"Miss Compton-Burnett is immensely unfair to most other contemporary British novelists.... Her apparently effortless skill shows them up. They seem to be breathing too hard by comparison."
New York Herald Tribune on Bullivant and the Lambs [published in England as Manservant and Maidservant]

"The purest and most original of contemporary English artists."
— Rosamond Lehmann

"Our English cousins across the sea have every reason to be proud of the writing talents of Ivy Compton-Burnett. Certainly the publication of her novel here will give cause for endless chuckles to those of us somewhat starved for original wit in our reading today."
The New Yorker on Bullivant and the Lambs [published in England as Manservant and Maidservant]

"...she fills her matchless dialogue with utterly unpredictable remarks, she flits from sense to nonsense, she swings you around and around until, helpless and happy, you hope she'll never let go."
— W. G. Rogers

"Possibly the most consistently original literary contribution of the last half century."
— Kay Dick, Queen

"No writer did more to illumine the springs of human cruelty, suffering and bravery."
— Angus Wilson

"A remarkable and unusual novelist, who has, in her own well-tilled field, no rival and no parallel."
Times Literary Supplement

"This piercingly wise, discreet, mannered Victoriana conceals abysses of the human personality ... a gentle tea-cosy madness, a coil of vipers in a sewing-basket."
— Pamela Hansford Johnson

"Everyone in it [Darkness and Day] is either protecting himself from the truth or unearthing it. 'What we ought to be is not what we are.' If all the characters blaze with wit, this is in order to illuminate the most unlovely recesses of the human heart; in none of the fashionable prophets of despair do we find a blacker view of human nature. Yet here the reader is exhilirated — by the author's iron courage and by her austere diction, which can rise to poetic grandeur ..."
— Raymond Mortimer, reviewing Darkness and Day in Sunday Times

"I venture to predict that all her books will be read with pleasure and great respect when little else in current fiction is remembered."
— Isabel Murray, Scotsman

"Her literary abilities have been abundantly acknowledged by the majority of her contemporaries. Her intense individuality has removed her from the possiblity of rivalry.... 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."
— Edwin Muir, The Observer


"To read Brothers and Sisters is certainly a new experience, but not one we are anxious to repeat."
New Statesman

"Pompous falsity ... a pinnacle of unreality."
John o' London's Weekly on More Women Than Men

"There is something rather cruel, rather horrible in Miss Burnett's talent."
New Statesman on Men and Wives

"A dumbfounded reviewer ... cannot, after several days pondering and re-reading, make up his mind whether this is indeed intended to be taken as a serious attempt at a novel, or whether it is meant to rival The Young Visitors. Either way, in his opinion, it fails.
Liverpool Post on More Women Than Men

Ivy Compton-Burnett's irritations,
And the titles she gives her narrations,
All these misses and misters,
All those 'Brothers and Sisters' —
They all sound like sexual relations.
The Penguin Book of Limericks