Ivy Compton-Burnett as a template for internet discussion forums
Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist and short story writer) writes to her lover Ray Russell in 1944 about the novels of Ivy Compton-Burnett:
“Not in the least up your street. The curiosities of literature. A dark madness pervades. Beyond the insanities, nothing happens. A bunch of rococo & unpleasant people stand talking in a room; first in one house, then in another, then back again at the first. Who shall sit down 13th at a table they discuss for a whole chapter. They all speak the same, even the children. They are all nasty. No one does any work – not even the governess.”
ET loved the novels of I C-B and the two women became friends.
Further to Reggie Oliver’s earlier drawing attention elsewhere to Ivy Compton Burnett’s mirrors:
“In this same year Ivy died. Robert [Liddell] was one of her six residuary legatees;
ten of her friends (mostly writers such as Lettice Cooper, James Lees-Milne, Kay
Dick, Francis King and Olivia Manning) received mirrors which had belonged to
Margaret Jourdain. Elizabeth [Taylor] did not, which led Robert to surmise that
because she was the best-looking of all Ivy’s friends she did not need one.”
–from ‘The Other Elizabeth Taylor’ by Nicola Beauman (Persephone Books 2009)
Ivy’s last months, it is told in the above book, at least partially inspired Elizabeth Taylor’s wonderful novel ‘Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont’ of which an equally wonderful cinema film was made. Highly recommended by me (if you like quiet, wet afternoon matinees in the Odeon).
Elizabeth Taylor – known as the most famous fiction writer for being underrated (apparently) – was great friends with Elizabeth Bowen and Ivy Compton-Burnett – as well as with Elizabeth Jane Howard (that brings us into my other literary world of Robert Aickman etc?). And there are other connections.
Yours, df lewis (exponent of ‘Only Connect’ a la EM Forster (elizabeth taylor’s favourite author)). 🙂
CANDELARIA by DFL
It was this effulgent shimmering that he allowed himself every day of the year, but, only upon Candlemass, did he remain free from those frissons of guilt that false religions could induce more easily on other celebratory occasions.
Frederik smiled. It was his day. The gorgeousness, the luxuriance, of a suburban, yet golden, ceiling shifting in and out of smoky focus. The room’s curtains were only partly pulled so that any passing strangers on the pavement outside could share in the transcendent glimmer as it became pools of ghostly rainwater beneath their feet.
Could raindrops have ghosts? Fredrik laughed, as he heard the steps of a stranger pass his bay window.
Passing by, though, not outside on the pavement, but seemingly inside the room itself, across or through the stranger’s own shuddering shadow in the curved space left by the window’s inner-embrasure.
A passing of a passing.
Fredrik wondered why he loved candlelight. It was perhaps as a result of a fact he serendipitously heard (one previous Candlemass) from a famous writer with whom Fredrik corresponded and to whose writer’s credit it should be given for trawling this rare item of capriciousness from the disintentional darknesses of literary history:-
“The novelist of insidiousness, Ivy Compton-Burnett, bequeathed, in her Will, a mirror to each of her many eventual surviving friends.”
The inscrutabilities of thought, thought Frederik whimsically.
Yet it was true that the walls of Fredrik’s parlour-room wherein he sat were mapped over by various mirrors – thus to strengthen the effect of candlelight. Not only did the close-ordered waxstems often fuse many single plumes of flame into one flame, but the kaleidoscope of mirrors made this merging become even more magnificent … tantamount to a fire-wall.
It was with some sense of relief that Fredrik recalled Ivy Compton-Burnett having only made such bequests to her surviving friends.
But how had she known, when the Will was made, which of her friends would out-survive the others? Fredrik’s famous writer friend was only a friend as long as his mails kept coming. And had Fredrik lost the address? Or had he blocked even his own mails because of a recent dream-fed fear of ‘meaty pink candle-fat’?
With birthday-cakes, a single sharp gust from deep in the lungs could usually snuff out all the candleflames however many there were by dint of years.
Upon today’s Candlemass, Fredrik suddenly realised, he needed to snuff out Hell itself.
And the singe of animal lard became louder and louder with a mass of pork-crackling sound. The Lights of Heaven.
This is an interesting passage from ‘The Other Elizabeth Taylor‘* biography I’m
<< “With Mrs Elizabeth Taylor we are safe – safe in the Home Counties somewhere
between ‘Mrs Dale’s Diary’ and glossy magazines and with Mrs Miniver hovering in
the background. We are also invited once again to be lyrical or, if that is too
much for us, at least to be sensitive . . . This novel is almost certain to be a
success with thousands of readers, but there are really too many clothes and
meals, or, to put it briefly, too much ‘furniture’.”
Thus the “Times Literary Supplement”‘s reviewer of ‘In A Summer Season’ in 1961.
False as this perception is, it derived in part from Elizabeth’s own life – a
reviewer’s judgement of a writer become bound up with his or her judgement of
the book – this is the kind of person the writer is, he thinks, this is the kind
of book he will write. And in many ways, it is true, Elizabeth Taylor’s life was
a ‘safe’ one… >>
I feel that a ‘safe’ life (as perceived) does not necessarily lead to a ‘safe’
Hence, perhaps, my lifelong attachment to The Intentional Fallacy and my invention of ‘Nemonymous’.
*by Nicola Beauman (Persephone Books 2009)