Pastors and Masters -
Pastors and Masters
is better described as a novella than a full blown novel (in my edition it comes in at a scant 96 pages). It’s Ivy Compton-Burnett’s (ICB) second, and the first to use her signature style of minimal description, maximal dialog. As such, she’s still mastering the technique so the novel fails at a couple of levels:
(1) It is
hard at times to follow what’s happening even if you’re paying close attention to the text.
(2) ICB introduces too many characters and situations to adequately address in less than a 100 pages. There’s Nicholas and Emily Herrick, headmaster and spinster sister; the Merrys, husband and wife who actually run the Herricks’ boys’ school (such as it is); Mr. Burgess and Miss Basden, teachers at the school; the Bentleys, father, daughter & sons (who attend the school); Reverend and Mrs. Peter Fletcher and his spinster sister, Lydia; and Nicholas’ friends William Masson and Richard Bumpus.
The chief plot revolves around Nicholas’ and Bumpus’ failures as authors, and what ensues when Nicholas steals a manuscript to pass off as his own that turns out to be a copy of Bumpus’ literary efforts. But there’re also the Merrys’ efforts to run at least a minimally effective school, and Mr. Bentley’s suspicions that his sons aren’t getting the respectable education he thinks they need.
There’s good stuff in here, too, make no mistake. The back-and-forth at the awards ceremony is tight, crisp and funny. And the scenes between Mr. Bentley and his children are painful and cringe-inducing examples of the worst type of Victorian father. Both indicative of ICB’s later, mature mastery of her style found in Manservant and Maidservant
, written 20 years later.
This is not the book to begin with if you’re interested in ICB but it’s worth it if you’re already a fan. An example of why, even with its flaws, the book’s publication caused a stir among the critics.