The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Please welcome back to the world … Ivy Compton-Burnett The Present and the Past (Dover Publications)

* made with the great assistance of Jeff Jackson


‘In The Present and the Past the plot, such as it is, deals with the seismic effect on the Clare family of the paterfamilias Cassius’ first wife, Catherine, whom he divorced nine years earlier after five years of marriage, and two sons – Fabian, now 13, and Guy, 11 – reappearing with the announcement that she regrets her decision to yield custody of the boys to their father, and expressing the wish to be able to see them whenever she wishes. Cassius’ second wife, Flavia, is understandably unhappy with this development, but is generous enough in spirit to accede to the demand.

‘Early in the proceedings we see some of Compton-Burnett’s incisively drawn scenes in which the children talk and interact with each other with precocious poise. In these she throws satiric light on the foibles of the adults who squabble and fret around them.

Cassius and Flavia had three children of their own together: Henry, 8; Megan, 7 and Tobias, 3. In this passage we meet Miss Ridley, their stereotypically starchy governess. In the opening pages they outwit her by talking metaphysics in the context of the imminent death of a hen, moving on to demolish her limited attempt to explain Darwinist theories of evolution (a key feature in Compton-Burnett’s fiction, along with Nietzschean power struggles).

‘In a rare passage of narrative description, here’s how Miss Ridley is presented:

Miss Ridley was forty-seven and looked exactly that age. She wore neat, strong clothes that bore no affinity to those in current use, and wore, or had set on her head an old, best hat in place of a modern, ordinary one. She was fully gloved and booted for her hour in the garden. Her full, pale face, small, steady eyes, non-descript features and confident movements combined with her clothes to make a whole that conformed to nothing and offended no one. She made no mistakes in her dress, merely carried out her intentions.

‘The outward appearance is used to suggest the woman’s inner nature. The adjectives that describe her clothes – ‘neat’ and ‘strong’ – are satirically ambiguous, suggesting utility and durability, rather than aesthetic qualities, as the rest of that sentence goes on to show.

‘The note that her has is ‘set on her head’ rather than worn there further suggests a physical awkwardness and disjointedness with her time – the added detail that it is outmoded reinforces this impression. Wearing her ‘old’ and ‘best’ hat in the garden tempers this slightly snobbish account by indicating that it’s probably her only hat; she’s poor. Our sympathy is now partially invoked, while we are shown at the same time her limitations of character and intellect.

‘Added to this is the detail that she’s ‘fully gloved and booted for her hour in the garden’: she’s more in thrall to propriety than to common sense or individuality of expression.

‘The next set of adjectives, about her face, eyes, ‘features’, ‘movements’ and ‘clothes’, do nothing to contradict this growing image of a narrow-minded, cribbed personality. The portrait is rounded off with that killer ending: the whole conforming to nothing and offending no one. She is deeply conventional and full of a conviction that she is just as she should be in her submissive role as governess – hence her inability to conform to anything, for this would be to commit herself to something, and her status and nature forbid her to do such a thing. She must be firm and narrow with the children, teaching them what she can from her limited range of knowledge, but ultimately remain inoffensive – and servile. Hence the lack of ‘mistakes’ in her ‘dress’: they signify the ‘intentions’ I’ve just outlined. She is in the invidious position of having to set an example but possessing no social identity.

‘I find this portrayal brilliantly suggestive. It seems at first sight a little cruel and patronising to a woman whose status at the period in which the novel was set, which seems to be Compton-Burnett’s favourite – late Edwardian or slightly later – would have been ambiguous: neither a servant, nor an equal to her employers. The children are astutely aware of this, and they regularly run rings round her emotionally and intellectually, as practice for their interactions with their trickier, more complicated parents (and contriving stepmother).

‘This description, then, isn’t just an ostentatious display of waspish, Austen-light character-sketching; it’s symptomatic of Compton-Burnett’s exploration of class and family dynamics.’ — Simon Lavery


‘Ivy Compton-Burnett is an acquired taste. A friend lent me The Present and The Past a year ago saying I had to read it. For the first couple of chapters I didn’t who was who or understand what was going on. Was this even a novel? It just seemed to be a lot of dialogue in artificial archaic speech. Somewhere in the third chapter I suddenly, in a flash of revelation, ‘got it’. I understood the tragi-comic ‘tone’ and understood that by concentrating on the subtle nuances of dialogue all the usual content/interest of a novel would become evident. There are distinct characters interacting and there is definitely plot – quite elaborate convoluted, even melodramatic, plot. But all the usual narrative devices of commentary, scene setting and transitions between scenes have been reduced, almost eliminated.

‘The storytelling occurs through the dialogue. All the characters speak in a stylised formal way, even children. This dialogue has a sophisticated ironic tone that is blackly comic (it frequently makes me laugh out loud), yet explicitly expresses a tragic sense of the hopelessness and tragedy of life. The main distinction between characters is where they stand in the hierarchy of the Victorian household in which all Ivy novels seem to be set. In other words these novels are about power, guilt and complicity: the mind games and power games into which we are all locked – the Victorian household and its characters becoming universal archetypes. (It may be a far-fetched comparison but I think that in both the settings and the rigorously `minimalist’ style Ivy is to literature what Japanese director Ozu is to cinema, with a similar emotional punch.)

‘Because of the concentrated nature of the dialogue, reading Ivy is very intense and she is probably best read in small doses, one chapter at a sitting. But, apart from that, once you `get it’ then reading Ivy becomes easy and addictive. It’s not like reading Finnegans Wake. I’ve now read several more Ivy novels and they are all similar, though Present and Past remains my favourite. It’s quite short, focused, funny and poignant. We have Cassius, a typical Ivy father/husband: part tyrant part baby. His previous wife suddenly reappears. This appeals to Cassius’s narcissism. He thinks he has formed a kind of harem in which he wields absolute power. But then (a little like the infamous harem scene in Fellini’s Eight and a Half) the previous wife and the present wife start to bond with each other and power begins to ebb from Cassius: his ego, his sense of self and then his very existence begin to crumble. Even the children start to deride him. And then a series of extraordinary plot twists… which you’ll have to read the book to find out!’ — hj






The Ivy Compton-Burnett Homepage
Ivy Compton-Burnett @ myspace
‘London has lost all its Ivy’
‘The deeds and words of Ivy Compton-Burnett’
‘TPatP’ @ goodreads
Douglas Messerli on ‘TPatP’
‘Ivy Compton-Burnett’s Small Economies’
‘Terrifyingly Friendly’
‘Table Talk’
Finding-Aid for the Ivy Compton-Burnett Papers
‘Poison? Ivy? No: merely the least-read great novelist’
John Waters on Ivy Compton-Burnett




Ivy Compton-Burnett “Dom i jego głowa”

Ivy Compton-Burnett Quotes



Speed read



Manuscript page





Margaret Jourdain: We are both what our country landladies call “great readers,” and have often talked over other people’s books during this long quarter of a century between two wars, but never your books.

Ivy Compton-Burnett: It seems an omission, as I am sure we have talked of yours. So let us remedy it.

M. J.: I see that yours are a novel thing in fiction, and unlike the work of other novelists. I see that they are conversation pieces, stepping into the bounds of drama, that narrative and exposition in them are drastically reduced, that there is less scenery than in the early days of the English drama, when a placard informed the audience that the scene was “a wood near Athens,” and less description than in many stage directions. There is nothing to catch the eye, in this “country of the blind.” All your books, from Pastors and Masters, to the present-day Elders and Betters are quite unlike what Virginia Woolf called the “heavy upholstered novel.”

I. C. B.: I do not see why exposition and description are a necessary part of a novel. They are not of a play, and both deal with imaginary human beings and their lives. I have been told that I ought to write plays, but cannot see myself making the transition. I read plays with especial pleasure, and in reading novels I am disappointed if a scene is carried through in the voice of the author rather than the voices of the characters. I think that I simply follow my natural bent. But I hardly think that “country of the blind” is quite the right description of my scene.

M. J.: I should like to ask you one or two questions; partly my own and partly what several friends have asked. There is time enough and to spare in Lyme Regis, which is a town well-known to novelists. Jane Austen was here, and Miss Mitford.

I. C. B.: And now we are here, though our presence does not seem to be equally felt. No notice marks our lodging. And we also differ from Jane Austen and Miss Mitford in being birds of passage, fleeing from bombs. I have a feeling that they would both have fled, and felt it proper to do so, and wish that we could really feel it equally proper.

M. J.: I have heard your dialogue criticised as “highly artificial” or stylised. One reviewer, I remember, said that it was impossible to “conceive of any human being giving tongue to every emotion, foible and reason with the precision, clarity and wit possessed by all Miss Compton-Burnett’s characters, be they parlourmaids, children, parents or spinster aunts.” It seems odd to object to precision, clarity and wit, and the same objection would lie against the dialogue of Congreve and Sheridan.

I. C. B.: I think that my writing does not seem to me as “stylised” as it apparently is, though I do not attempt to make my characters use the words of actual life. I cannot tell you why I write as I do, as I do not know. I have even tried not to do it, but find myself falling back into my own way. It seems to me that the servants in my books talk quite differently from the educated people, and the children from the adults, but the difference may remain in my own mind and not be conveyed to the reader. I think people’s style, like the way they speak and move, comes from themselves and cannot be explained. I am not saying that they necessarily admire it, though naturally they turn on it a lenient eye.

M. J.: The word “stylised,” which according to the New English Dictionary means “conforming to the rules of a conventional style” has been used in reviewing your books, but the dialogue is often very close to real speech, and not “artificial” or “stylised.” It is, however, sometimes interrupted by formal speech. Take Lucia Sullivan’s explanation of her grandfather’s reluctance to enter his son’s sitting room without an invitation. “It is the intangibility of the distinction (she says) that gives it its point.” Lucia Sullivan is a girl of twenty-four, not especially formal at other times.

I. C. B.: I cannot tell why my people talk sometimes according to conventional style, and sometimes in the manner of real speech, if this is the case. It is simply the result of an effort to give the impression I want to give.

I should not have thought that Lucia Sullivan’s speech was particularly formal. The long word near the beginning is the word that gives her meaning; and surely a girl of twenty-four is enough of a woman to have a normal command of words.

M. J.: Reviewers lean to comparisons. Some have suggested a likeness between your work and Jane Austen’s. Mr. Edwin Muir, however, thinks it is “much nearer the Elizabethan drama of horror”—I can’t think why.

I. C. B.: I should not have thought that authors often recognised influences. They tend to think, and to like to think, that they are not unduly indebted to their predecessors. But I have read Jane Austen so much, and with such enjoyment and admiration, that I may have absorbed things from her unconsciously. I do not think myself that my books have any real likeness to hers. I think that there is possibly some likeness between our minds.

The same might apply in a measure to the Elizabethan dramatists, though I don’t think I have read these more than most people have.

M. J:. Mr. Muir in an earlier review says that you remind him of Congreve—a formidable list, Congreve, Jane Austen, Henry James and the Elizabethan dramatists—and the odd thing is that they are all disparate.

I. C. B.: The only explanation I can give, is that people who practise the same art are likely to have some characteristics in common. I have noticed such resemblance between writers the most widely separated, in merit, kind and time.

M. J.: I see one point of contact between your novels and Jane Austen’s. She keeps her eye fixed upon the small circuit of country gentlefolk who seem to have little to do but pay calls, take walks, talk, and dine, in fact—the comfortable classes; she does not include people in what Austen Leigh calls “a position of poverty and obscurity, as this, though not necessarily connected with vulgarity, has a sad tendency to degenerate into it.”

I. C. B.: I feel that I do not know the people outside my own world well enough to deal with them. I had no idea that my characters did nothing but call, walk, talk and dine, though I am glad you do not say that they only talk. Their professions and occupations are indicated, but I am concerned with their personal lives; and following them into their professional world would lead to the alternations between two spheres, that I think is a mistake in books. I always regret it in the great Victorian novelists, though it would be hard to avoid it in books on a large scale. And my characters have their own poverty and obscurity, though of course it is only their own.

I feel I have a knowledge of servants in so far as they take a part in the world they serve. This may mean that the knowledge is superficial, as I have often thought it in other people’s books.

The people in between seem to me unrelated to anything I know. When I talk to tradespeople, their thoughts and reactions seem to have their background in a dark world, though their material lives may not differ greatly from my own.

M. J.: I don’t see any influence of the “Elizabethan drama of horror,” nor much of Jane Austen. I think there is something of Henry James. What about the suggestion that the Russian novelists affected you—not Tolstoy of course, but Tchekov or Dostoievsky. Dostoievsky’s method, “a mad jumble that flings things down in a heap,” isn’t yours. And how about the Greek dramatists?

I. C. B.: I am not a great reader of Henry James, though I have seen it suggested that I am his disciple. I don’t mean that I have any objection to the character, except in so far as it is a human instinct to object to being a disciple, but I hardly think I have read him enough to show his influence. I enjoy him less than many other writers. He does not reveal as much as I should like of the relations of his characters with each other. And I am surprised if my style is as intricate as his. I should have thought it was only rather condensed. If it is, I sympathise with the people who cannot read my books. The Russian novels I read with a sense of being in a daze, of seeing their action take place in a sort of half-light, as though there was an obscurity between my mind and theirs, and only part of the meaning conveyed to a Russian came through to me. I always wonder if people, who think they see the whole meaning, have any conception of it. So I am probably hardly influenced by the Russians. But, as I have said before, I think that people who follow the same art, however different their levels, are likely to have some of the same attributes, and that it is possibly these that lead them to a similar end. The Greek dramatists I read as a girl, as I was classically educated, and read them with the attention to each line necessitated by the state of my scholarship; and it is difficult to say how much soaked in, but I should think very likely something. I have not read them for many years—another result of the state of my scholarship.

M. J.: There is little attention given to external things and almost no descriptive writing in your novels, and that is a breach with tradition. Even Jane Austen has an aside about the “worth” of Lyme, Charmouth and Pinhay, “with its green chasms between romantic rocks.” And there is much more description in later novels, such as Thomas Hardy’s. In The Return of the Native, the great Egdon Heath has to be reckoned with as a protagonist. Now you cut out all of this. The Gavestons’ house in A Family and a Fortune is spoken of as old and beautiful, but its date and style are not mentioned.

I. C. B.: I should have thought that my actual characters were described enough to help people to imagine them. However detailed such description is, I am sure that everyone forms his own conceptions, that are different from everyone else’s, including the author’s. As regards such things as landscape and scenery, I never feel inclined to describe them; indeed I tend to miss such writing out, when I am reading, which may be a sign that I am not fitted for it. I make an exception of Thomas Hardy, but surely his presentation of natural features almost as characters puts him on a plane of his own, and almost carries the thing described into the human world. In the case of Jane Austen, I hurry through her words about Lyme and its surroundings, in order to return to her people.

It might be better to give more account of people’s homes and intimate background, but I hardly see why the date and style of the Gavestons’ house should be given, as I did not think of them as giving their attention to it, and as a house of a different date and style would have done for them equally well. It would be something to them that it was old and beautiful, but it would be enough.

M. J.: I see a reviewer says that Elders and Betters—which has the destruction of a will by one character (Anna Donne) who afterwards drives another to suicide—has “a milder and less criminal flavour than most of its predecessors.” There is a high incidence of murder in some of your novels, which is really not common among the “comfortable classes.” I remember, however, talking of the rarity of murders with a lawyer’s daughter, who said that her father asserted that murders within their class were not so rare. He used to call them “Mayfair murders.”

I. C. B.: I never see why murder and perversion of justice are not normal subjects for a plot, or why they are particularly Elizabethan or Victorian, as some reviewers seem to think. But I think it is better for a novel to have a plot. Otherwise it has no shape, and incidents that have no part in a formal whole seem to have less significance. I always wish that Katherine Mansfield’s At the Bay was cast in a formal mould. And a plot gives rise to secondary scenes, that bring out personality and give scope for revealing character. If the plot were taken out of a book, a good deal of what may seem unconnected with it, would have to go. A plot is like the bones of a person, not interesting like expression or signs of experience, but the support of the whole.

M. J.: At the Bay breaks off rather than comes to its full stop. A novel without a plot sags like a tent with a broken pole. Your last book had a very generous amount of review space; and most of the reviews were intelligent. Elizabeth Bowen found a phrase for one of your characteristics; “a sinister cosiness,” but the Queen tells one that “if one perseveres with the conversations (evidently an obstacle), a domestic chronicle of the quieter sort emerges.” How do you think reviews have affected you and your work?

I. C. B.: It is said that writers never read reviews, but in this case it is hard to see how the press-cutting agencies can flourish and increase their charge. I think that writers not only read reviews, but are subject to an urge to do so. George Henry Lewes is supposed to have hidden George Eliot’s disparaging reviews, in case she should see them; and if he wished to prevent her doing so, I think it was a wise precaution. I think that reviews have a considerable effect upon writers. Of course I am talking of reviews that count, by people whose words have a meaning. I remember my first encouraging notices with gratitude to their authors. Much of the pleasure of making a book would go, if it held nothing to be shared by other people. I would write for a few dozen people; and it sometimes seems that I do so; but I would not write for no one.

I think the effect of reviews upon a writer’s actual work is less. A writer is too happy in praise to do anything but accept it. Blame he would reject, if he could; but if he cannot, I think he generally knew of his guilt, and could not remedy matters. I have nearly always found this the case myself.

Letters from readers must come under the head of reviews, and have the advantage that their writers are under no compulsion to mention what they do not admire. I have only had one correspondent who broke this rule, and what he did not admire was the whole book. He stated that he could see nothing in it, and had moreover found it too concentrated to read. Someone said that I must have liked this letter the most of all I had had, but I believe I liked it the least.

Some writers have so many letters that they find them a burden. They make me feel ashamed of having so few, and inclined to think that people should write to me more.



The book

Ivy Compton-Burnett The Past and the Present
Dover Publications

When Cassius Clare and his first wife divorced, he insisted upon retaining custody of their two sons; he then remarried and fathered three more children. Now the first Mrs. Clare has returned after nine years’ absence, begging to be allowed to visit the children. Cassius takes a malicious pleasure in granted her request, certain that she and the second Mrs. Clare will provide him with an amusing sideshow. Instead, the two women strike up a warm friendship that leaves him out in the cold—and contemplating an attention-getting suicide attempt.

Compton-Burnett was known as a writer’s writer: Joyce Carol Oates called her work “Aeschylus and Sophocles funnily reinvented by Oscar Wilde”; John Waters described her books as “dark, hilarious, evil little novels”; and V. S. Pritchett, in 1955, noted she was “the most original novelist now writing in English.” Discover for yourself why Compton-Burnett is treasured by authors of all sorts.

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“Aeschylus and Sophocles funnily reinvented by Oscar Wilde.”— Joyce Carol Oates

“Dark, hilarious, evil little novels.”— John Waters

“One of the most original, artful, and elegant writers of the century”— Hilary Mantel

“Precise, poised, studied, epigrammatic artistry.”—Kirkus

“The most original novelist now writing in English.”— V. S. Pritchett (in 1955)

“Anyone who picks up a Compton-Burnett finds it very hard not to put it down.”—Ivy Compton-Burnett





“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” said Henry Clare.

His sister glanced in his direction.

“They are pecking the sick one. They are angry because it is ill.”

“Perhaps it is because they are anxious,” said Megan, looking at the hens in the hope of discerning this feeling.

“It will soon be dead,” said Henry, sitting on a log with his hands on his knees. “It must be having death-pangs now.”

Another member of the family was giving his attention to the fowls. He was earnestly thrusting cake through the wire for their entertainment. When he dropped a piece he picked it up and put it into his own mouth, as though it had been rendered unfit for poultry’s consumption. His elders appeared to view his attitude either in indifference or sympathy.

“What are death-pangs like?” said Henry, in another tone.

“I don’t know,” said his sister, keeping her eyes from the sufferer of them. “And I don’t think the hen is having them. It seems not to know anything.”

Henry was a tall, solid boy of eight, with rough, dark hair, pale, wide eyes, formless, infantine features, and something vulnerable about him that seemed inconsistent with himself. His sister, a year younger and smaller for her age, had narrower, deeper eyes, a regular, oval face, sudden, nervous movements, and something resistant in her that was again at variance with what was beneath. Tobias at three had small, dark, busy eyes, a fluffy, colourless head, a face that changed with the weeks and evinced an uncertain charm, and a withdrawn expression consistent with his absorption in his own interests. He was still pushing crumbs through the wire when his shoulder was grasped by a hand above him.

“Wasting your cake on the hens! You know you were to eat it yourself.”
Toby continued his task as though unaware of interruption. “Couldn’t one of you others have stopped him?”

The latter also seemed unaware of any break.

“Don’t do that,” said the nursemaid, seizing Toby’s arm so that he dropped the cake. “Didn’t you hear me speak?”

Toby still seemed not to do so. He retrieved the cake, took a bite himself and resumed his work.

“Don’t eat it now,” said Eliza. “Give it all to the hens.”

Toby followed the injunction, and she waited until the cake was gone. “Now if I give you another piece, will you eat it?”

“Can we have another piece too?” said the other children, appear- ing to notice her for the first time.

She distributed the cake, and Toby turned to the wire, but when she pulled him away, stood eating contentedly.

“Soon be better now,” he said, with reference to the hen and his dealings with it.

“It didn’t get any cake,” said Henry. “The others had it all. They took it and then pecked the sick one. Oh, dear, oh, dear!”

“He did get some,” said Toby, looking from face to face for reassurance. “Toby gave it to him.”

He turned to inspect the position, which was now that the hens, no longer competing for crumbs, had transferred their activity to their disabled companion.

“Pecking him!” said Toby, moving from foot to foot. “Pecking him when he is ill! Fetch William. Fetch him.”

A pleasant, middle-aged man, known as the head gardener by virtue of his once having had subordinates, entered the run and transferred the hen to a separate coop.

“That is better, sir.”

“Call Toby ‘sir,’” said the latter, smiling to himself.

“She will be by herself now.” “Sir,” supplied Toby.

“Will it get well?” said Henry. “I can’t say, sir.”

“Henry and Toby both ‘sir,’” said Toby. “Megan too.” “No, I am not,” said his sister.

“Poor Megan, not ‘sir’!” said Toby, sadly.

“The last hen that was ill was put in a coop to die,” said Henry, resuming his seat and the mood it seemed to engender in him.

“Well, it died after it was there,” said Megan. “That is better, miss,” said William.

“Miss,” said Toby, in a quiet, complex tone.

“They go away alone to die,” said Henry. “All birds do that, and a hen is a bird. But it can’t when it is shut in a coop. It can’t act according to its nature.”

“Perhaps it ought not to do a thing that ends in dying,” said Megan.
“Something in that, miss,” said William.

“Why do you stay by the fowls,” said Eliza, “when there is the garden for you to play in?”

“We are only allowed to play in part of it,” said Henry, as though giving an explanation.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” said Eliza, in perfunctory mimicry. “William forgot to let out the hens,” said Megan, “and Toby would not leave them.”
Toby tried to propel some cake to the hen in the coop, failed and stood absorbed in the scramble of the others for it.

“All want one little crumb. Poor hens!”

“What did I tell you?” said Eliza, again grasping his arm.

He pulled it away and openly applied himself to inserting cake between the wires.

“Toby not eat it now,” he said in a dutiful tone.

“A good thing he does not have all his meals here,” said William. “There is trouble wherever he has them,” said Eliza. “And the end is waste.”

The sick hen roused to life and flung itself against the coop in a frenzy to join the feast.

“It will kill itself,” said Henry. “No one will let it out.” William did so and the hen rushed forth, cast itself into the fray, staggered and fell.

“It is dead,” said Henry, almost before this was the case.

“Poor hen fall down,” said Toby, in the tone of one who knew the experience. “But soon be well again.”

“Not in this world,” said William.

“Sir,” said Toby, to himself. “No, miss.”

“It won’t go to another world,” said Henry. “It was ill and pecked in this one, and it won’t have any other.”

“It was only pecked on its last day,” said Megan. “And everything is ill before it dies.”

‘‘The last thing it felt was hunger, and that was not satisfied.” “It did not know it would not be. It thought it would.”

“It did that, miss,” said William. “And it was dead before it knew.”

“There was no water in the coop,” said Henry, “and sick things are parched with thirst.”

“Walking on him,” said Toby, in a dubious tone.

“Eliza, the hens are walking on the dead one!” said Megan, in a voice that betrayed her.

“It is in their way, miss,” said William, giving a full account of the position.

Megan looked away from the hens, and Henry stood with his eyes on them. Toby let the matter leave his mind, or found that it did so.

“Now what is all this?” said another voice, as the head nurse appeared on the scene, and was led by some instinct to turn her eyes at once on Megan. “What is the matter with you all?”

“One of the hens has died,” said Eliza, in rapid summary. “Toby has given them his cake and hardly taken a mouthful. The other hens walked on the dead one and upset Miss Megan. Master Henry has one of his moods.”
Megan turned aside with a covert glance at William.

“Seeing the truth about things isn’t a mood,” said Henry.

“It all comes of playing in the wrong place,” said Miss Bennet. “You should watch the hens in the field.”

“How can we, when they are not there?” “You know they are there as a rule.”

“Very nice place to-day,” said Toby, who had heard with a lifted face and a belief that the arrangement was for his convenience. “All together in a large cage.”

“Well, it has been a treat for you,” said Eliza.

“Because very good boy,” said Toby, in a tone of supplying an omission.

“A strange kind of treat,” said Henry. “A hen pecked to death, and hungry and thirsty at the last.”

“Hens don’t mind dying; they die too easily,” said Bennet, with conviction in her tone, if nowhere else.

“It was worse than being pecked to death. It was pecked when it was dying.”

“They always do that, sir,” said William, as if the frequency were a ground for cheer.

Toby stood with his eyes on the dead hen. “William put him in a cage by himself.”

William carried the hen away, smoothing its feathers as he did so.

“William stroke him,” said Toby, with approval. “The hen didn’t know about it,” said Henry. “He did know,” said Toby.

“It couldn’t when it was dead.”

“So William stroke him,” said Toby. “Poor hen! Toby saw him know.”

William resumed his work, and Toby applied himself to attendance upon him, a duty that made consistent inroads upon his time. When William signified his need of a tool, he fetched it with a light on his face and his tongue protruding, and thrust its prongs towards William in earnest co-operation.

“What should I do without you, sir, now that I have no boy?

“William have one now. Not Henry.” “You grow such a big lad, sir.”

“Not lad,” said Toby, with a wail in his tone. “Such a big boy, sir.”

“As big as Henry. Just the same. No, the same as Megan,” said Toby, ending on an affectionate note.

“Shall I help William?” said Henry, getting off his log. “No, Toby help him. To-day and to-morrow.”

“Isn’t it time for your sleep, sir?”

Toby flickered his eyes over Eliza and Bennet, and smoothly resumed his employment.

The latter were engaged in talk so earnest that it might have been assumed to relate to their own affairs. Their interest was given to the family to whom they gave everything. In Bennet’s case it was permanent, and in Eliza’s susceptible of change. Megan sometimes listened to them; Henry had not thought of doing so; and Toby heard their voices as he heard the other sounds about him.

Eliza was a country girl of twenty-six, with the fairness that results in eyes and brows and lashes of a similar pallor, and features that seem to fail to separate themselves from each other. She had an uneducated expression and an air of knowledge of life that seemed its natural accompaniment. Bennet was a small, spare woman of forty-five, with a thin, sallow face marked by simple lines of benevolence, long, narrow features and large, full eyes of the colour that is called grey because it is no other. She took little interest in herself, and so much in other people that it tended to absorb her being. When the children recalled her to their world, she would return as if from another. They loved her not as themselves, but as the person who served their love of themselves, and greater love has no child than this. She came of tradesman stock and had no need to earn her bread, but consorted with anyone in the house who shared her zest for personal affairs.

“Good-morning, Miss Bennet,” said another voice. “Good morning, Megan. Good-morning, Henry. Is Toby coming to say good-morning to-day?”

“No,” said Toby, in an incidental tone. “Good-morning, ma’am,” said Eliza.

“Good-morning, Eliza,” said the governess, with a fuller enunciation that she had omitted the greeting before.

“Have you said good-morning to Miss Ridley?” said Bennet. “Enough people have said it,” said Henry, “and the others did not say it to you.”
Bennet did not comment on the omission, indeed had not been struck by it, and the two boys who accompanied Miss Ridley did not seem aware of what passed.

“Well, what a beautiful day!” said Miss Ridley.

“It is the same as any other day,” said Henry, raising his eyes for his first inspection of it. “Though not for the hen.”

“A hen has died and upset them,” said Bennet, in a low, confidential tone that the children heard and found comforting. “It will soon pass off.”
“Not for the hen,” said Henry. “It won’t have any day at all.” “We do not quite know that,” said Miss Ridley. “Opinions vary on the difference between the animal world and our own.” “Opinions are not much good when no one has the same,” said Megan. “They don’t tell you anything.”
“That again is not quite true. Many people have the same. There are different schools of thought, and people belong to all of them.”

“How do they know which to choose?”

“That may be beyond your range. It takes us rather deep.” “What is the good of knowing things, when you have to get older and older and die before you know everything?” “You will certainly do that, Megan, and so shall I.”

“Are animals of the same nature as we are?” said Henry. “Monkeys look as if they were.”

“Yes, that is the line of the truth. A scientist called Darwin has told us about it. Of course we have developed much further.”

“Then weren’t we made all at once as we are?” said Megan. “Eliza says that would mean the Bible was not true.”

“It has its essential truth, and that is what matters.”

“I suppose any untrue thing might have that. I daresay a good many have. So there is no such thing as truth. It is different in different minds.”

“Why, you will be a philosopher one day, Megan.”

Miss Ridley was forty-seven and looked exactly that age. She wore neat, strong clothes that bore no affinity to those in current use, and wore, or had set on her head an old, best hat in place of a modern, ordinary one. She was fully gloved and booted for her hour in the garden. Her full, pale face, small, steady eyes, non- descript features and confident movements combined with her clothes to make a whole that conformed to nothing and offended no one. She made no mistakes in her dress, merely carried out her intentions.

The two boys who were with her wore rather childish clothes to conform with Henry’s. Fabian at thirteen had a broad face and brow, broad, clear features and pure grey eyes that recalled his sister’s. Guy was two years younger and unlike him, with a childish, pretty face, dark eyes that might have recalled Toby’s, but for their lack of independence and purpose, and a habit of looking at his brother in trust and emulation.
“Well, here are the five of you together,” said Miss Ridley, who often made statements that were accepted. “Are you going to have a game before luncheon? It is twelve o’clock.”

“That would mean that we amused the younger ones,” said Fabian.

“And is there so much objection to that?” “To me there is too much.”
Henry and Megan showed no interest in the enterprise, and Guy looked as if he were not averse from it. Toby, at the mention of the time, had turned and disappeared into some bushes behind him. Eliza went in pursuit, and naturally gained in the contest, as she did her best in it. Toby glanced back to measure her advance, stumbled and fell and lay outstretched and still, uttering despairing cries. His brothers did not look in his direction, and his sister did no more than this. Bennet waited until he emerged in Eliza’s arms, his lamentations complicated by his further prospects, and reassured by what she saw, entered into talk with Miss Ridley.

“Have you seen anyone this morning?” she said, in a tone at once eager and casual.

“Mrs. Clare came in to ask about the children. She takes an equal interest in them all. And the tutor came and went. Guy does not do too well with him. I think he is nervous.”

Bennet turned eyes of concern on Guy. She had reared the five from the first and saw the infant in all of them.

“Have Mr. and Mrs. Clare been together this morning?” “Yes, for a time, but old Mr. Clare was with them.” “And that prevented trouble?” said Fabian.

“Why, what trouble should there be?” said Miss Ridley. “There should not be any, but there would have been. You know what has happened.”

“Why, things happen every day, Fabian.”

“This has not happened for nine years. My own mother has returned to the place. You must know that.”

“Well, I believe I had heard something about it.”

“You are right in your belief, as it is likely you would be. You would hardly be the only person not to hear.”

“It is nothing for you to think about,” said Bennet, in an easy tone that was belied by her eyes.

“It is the only thing. What would anyone think about in our place?”

“You have your mother here.” “We have our stepmother.”

“What is a real mother like?” said Guy.

“Like Mater to her own children,” said his brother.

“You know that no difference is made,” said Miss Ridley. “The difference is there. There is no need to make it.” “Are all fathers like our father?” said Guy.

“No father is like him,” said Fabian. “We have no normal parent.”

“He is devoted to you in his way,” said Miss Ridley.

“I daresay a cat does the right thing to a mouse in its way.” “Doing things in your own way is not really doing them,” said Megan.

“Why, Fabian, what a conscious way of talking!” said Miss Ridley. “And it leads the others to copy you.”

“Why should I talk like a child, when my life prevents me from being one?”

“Would having a real mother make us more childish?” said Guy. “That would hardly be desirable in your case,” said Miss Ridley. “You are inclined to be behind your age. And you could not have a stepmother who was more like a real mother.”

“And we could not have one who was like one,” said Fabian. “You know that every effort is made for you.”

“Of course we know. Everyone is at pains to tell us. And we can see it being made, as they can.”

“Suppose it was not made? That would be the thing to mind.” “But perhaps not to mind so much.”

“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” said Henry. “Whatever is it?” said Miss Ridley.

“They haven’t anything,” said Henry, indicating his brothers. “Not even as much as we have.”

“Now really you are ungrateful children. You have a beautiful home and every care and kindness. It would do you good to have to face some real trouble.”

“You know it would do us harm,” said Henry. “I cannot think what has come over you.”

“Then you cannot think at all,” said Fabian. “But I daresay that is the case. A good many people can’t.”

Guy and Megan laughed.

“And you are one of the fortunate ones who can?” said Miss Ridley, using a dry tone.

“I am one of the unfortunate ones who do. That is how I should put it.”

“It is perhaps rather a bold claim.”

“It is not a claim. It is merely a statement of fact.”

“If you know things, of course you think about them,” said Megan. “Or you wouldn’t really know them.”

“You should not say these things before the little ones,” said Miss Ridley to Fabian. “Especially if you are a person who thinks. Or do you not think about them?”

“Why should I? They have enough people to do it.”

“Henry, do get up from that log,” said Bennet, giving matters a lighter tone. “What an uncomfortable seat!”

“Not enough to make you forget anything,” said Henry, as if it had failed in its purpose.

“Have we had to bear more than other children?” said Guy. “I mean Fabian and me.”

“Now what have you had to bear?” said Miss Ridley. “Try to tell me one thing.”

“He doesn’t mean hunger and cold like children in books,” said Henry. “But they are not the only things.”

“Why are Sunday books sadder than others?” said Megan. “It seems to be making it the worst day on purpose. And it is supposed to be the best.”

“Now do you not find it so?” said Miss Ridley.

“Only because it is a holiday. Any other day would be better.” “It need not be worse than other days,” said Fabian. “The reasons are man-made. Our religion is a gloomy one. There are other and happier creeds.”
“Oh, hush, you know there is the one true one,” said Bennet, in an automatic manner, not moving her eyes.

“It is a pity it is so sad,” said Guy. “It has to mean that life is sad, when religion goes through life.”

“Now surely you can think of something pleasant,” said Miss Ridley.

“You admit that religion is not that,” said Fabian.

“Now I knew you would take me up on that, Fabian. I knew it the moment the words were out of my mouth. Of course it has its solemn side. Its very depth and meaning involve that. We should not wish it otherwise.”

“Well, people do like gloom. It prevents other people from being happy.”

“But surely they do not wish that.”

“They seem to go through life wishing it. They think happiness is wrong.”

“Or they think it is too pleasant,” said Megan, “and so don’t want other people to have it.”

“My dear child, what reason can you have for saying such a thing?” “That I am not one of those who have eyes and see not, ears and hear not, and seeing do not perceive,” said Megan, twisting round on one leg.

“I am afraid you are conceited children.”

“Everyone is conceited. It is only that some people pretend not to be. People can’t always despise themselves, and there might not be any reason.”

“I daresay they could generally find one,” said Fabian.

“If they want to prevent people’s happiness, they certainly could,” said Miss Ridley.

“Miss Ridley is conceited,” said Henry, in an expressionless tone. “What am I conceited about, Henry?”

“About your brain and your learning.”

“I wonder if I am,” said Miss Ridley, consenting to turn attention to herself. “I hardly think so, Henry. About my brain I certainly am not. It is of the strong and useful kind, but no more. In learning I have gone further than I expected.”

Miss Ridley had obtained a degree, a step whose mystic significance for a woman was accepted at that date even by those who had taken it. It rendered her equal to the instruction of male youth, and accounted for her presence in the family.

Eliza came towards them, calling out to Bennet tidings that were worth announcing from afar.

“He was asleep in a minute. He was fractious because he was tired.” “Dear little boy!” said Miss Ridley.

“Is there anything endearing in being asleep?” said Fabian. “Not that it is not better than screaming on the ground.”

“People are always glad when babies go to sleep,” said Henry. “They can stop thinking about them. They take too much thought.”

“You don’t deserve to have a baby brother,” said Miss Ridley. “Well, we did not want one.”

“I remember how excited you were when he came.”

“But not when he stayed,” said Megan, smiling. “Not when he had always to be there.”

“I was never excited at all,” said Henry. “I knew he would have to stay. I knew it wouldn’t be Megan and me any longer.”

“I am afraid that is a selfish point of view.”

“All points of view are selfish,” said Megan. “They are the way people look at things themselves. So they must be.”

“Both knees are grazed,” said Eliza to Bennet, as though this might have been expected.

“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” said Henry.

“Come, that is not so bad,” said Miss Ridley. “Children must sometimes fall, and he was very brave.”

“Was he?” said Fabian. “How would cowardice be shown?”

“I wasn’t thinking of him,” said Henry. “There are other things that matter. And Megan and I don’t always think about him. I had a thought of my own.”

“You ought to get out of the habit of saying, ‘Oh, dear, oh, dear!’ ”

“It isn’t a habit. I don’t say it if there isn’t a reason. Reasons can’t be a habit. They are there.”

“You are proud of saying it,” said Guy, “because great minds tend to melancholy. I know the book that says it.”

“I don’t read the book; I don’t often read,” said Henry.

“Now there is another change we might see,” said Miss Ridley. “There are real changes that ought to be made, and never will be,” said Henry, checking his natural exclamation.

“Now there is the first effort made. I congratulate you, Henry.” “I wasn’t making an effort.”

“I think you were. You see I think better of you than you think of yourself.”

“People are always ashamed of trying to be better,” said Megan. “I should be sorry to think so,” said Miss Ridley. “Would you be ashamed of it?”

“I shall never know, because I shall never try.” “I think that shows you would be,” said Guy.

“Now Henry may say, ‘Oh, dear, oh, dear!’ ” said Miss Ridley. “I see there is reason.”

“People are ashamed of thinking they are not good enough as they are,” said Fabian.

“And yet they would not admit to a high opinion of themselves,” said another voice. “I suppose they could not, as it would be so very high.”
“Good-morning, Mrs. Clare,” said Miss Ridley. “Say good- morning to your mother, children.”

The children smiled without speaking, according to a law which they never broke, and of which their mother was not aware.

“Why do you play just here, the one unpleasant place? Did not one out of half-a-dozen of you think of that?”

“Everyone thought of it,” said Megan, “but Toby wanted to watch the hens.”

“Did he leave directions that you were all to abide by his choice?”
Megan laughed, and her mother kissed her and turned to the boys.
“How are all my sons this morning? No one in trouble, I hope?” she said, her eyes going to Henry and Guy, who were disposed to this state.

“Some minds tend to it,” said Henry, raising his eyes to her face. “Guy is pale this morning, Miss Ridley. He does not seem as strong as the others.”

“He is not, Mrs. Clare. Indeed he is one by himself in many ways.”

“And Fabian’s clothes look different. The brothers should be alike.”

“He is reaching the stage of choice. And likeness to younger brothers is not always part of it.”

“Well, if he knows his own mind, he has a right to follow it.” “You are an indulgent mother, Mrs. Clare.”

“I never see why children should not please themselves, as long as they do nothing wrong.”

“Would it be wrong not to learn anything?” said Henry.

“It would be wrong of me to let you be unprepared for life.” “Toby is unprepared, and people seem to like him.”

“Dear little boy! I should hope he is at three years old.” “I ought not to be so very prepared at eight.”

“Well, I do not suppose you are, my little son.”

“I am more prepared than you know. I am ready for things to happen. Is Megan more prepared than I am?”

“I should not wonder. Little girls sometimes are.”

“They are all of the independent type,” said Miss Ridley. “Guy is again the exception.”

“Fabian and Megan remind me of each other. They are a true brother and sister.”

“They are really only half one,” said Henry. “You surely do not feel that?”

“No, I just know it,” said Henry, as he followed the others. Flavia Clare looked after the group of children. She was a tall, thin woman of forty, with a wide, full head, a firm, curved mouth, honest hazel eyes that seemed to know their own honesty, and hair and clothes as unadorned and unadorning as custom permitted. An air about her of being a personality suggested that she was aware of this, and was careful to give it no thought.

“It is hard to be impartial to them all, Miss Ridley. I wonder how far I succeed.”

“I should say to an unusual degree, Mrs. Clare. I always feel inclined to congratulate you.”

“And I gave you the opportunity. What do you think, Miss Bennet?
I am giving it to you as well.”

“Yes. Oh, yes,” said Bennet, recalling her eyes and her thoughts. “People say they might all be your own children.”

“And you would not say it? I have tried to make them so.”

“You could not do any more,” said Bennet, in a tone of honest sympathy.
“And there is so much more to be done. I did not know how much it would be, how easy it would be to fail. But I suppose some failure must be accounted human success. We must be content with our human place.”

A bell rang in the house, and Miss Ridley turned and went towards it with a running gait, that seemed to incommode her without adding to her speed. Bennet followed without sign of haste, and they reached the house together. The children went severally to the nursery and the schoolroom, in accordance with the convention that allotted the most stairs to the shortest legs, or to those that had to be spared them.

Bennet sat at the head of her table, with Henry and Megan at the sides. Eliza’s place was at the bottom, with Toby’s high chair at her hand, so that she could divide her attention between her own meals and his. As she carried him from his bed to the chair, he exhibited signs of revulsion and turned his face over her shoulder.

“Oh, your own nice chair!” “No,” said Toby.

“We don’t want anyone else to sit in it.”

Toby cast eyes of suspicion on Henry and Megan, and Eliza took advantage of the moment to insert him into the chair. He bowed to fate to the extent of merely uttering fretting sounds.

“Now look at the nice dinner,” said Eliza.

Toby gave it a glance of careless appraisement and settled to a game with his bib and mug, that involved a crooning song. When a spoon approached his lips he shut them tight.

“Now what about feeding yourself?” said Eliza, in a zestful manner.
Toby took the spoon, misled by the tone, but was repelled by the routine and cast the spoon on the ground. Eliza took another without a change of expression and proceeded to feed him, and he presently leaned over the chair.

“Poor spoon!” he said.

“Yes, poor spoon! You have thrown it on the floor. It is all by itself down there.”

“Oh, yes. All by itself. Toby not throw it. Eliza did.”

“No, no, you know quite well you threw it yourself. Now eat your dinner or you won’t be a good boy,” said Eliza, accepting Toby’s moral range.
A look of consternation came into the latter’s eyes, and he ate industriously.

“Very good boy,” he said, appealing to Bennet. “Yes, if you eat your dinner.”

Toby returned to his plate, but misliking the scraps left upon it, took it in both hands and threw it after the spoon. It broke and he fell into mirth.

“Dear, dear, what a naughty thing to do!” said Eliza. Toby was lost in his emotion.

Henry and Megan picked up the pieces and broke them, to divert him further. The method succeeded too well, and he showed signs of hysteria and exhaustion.

“No, no, go back to your seats,” said Bennet. “He will be upset.”
Henry threw down the last fragment, and Toby’s mirth brought a look of perplexity to his own face as to its pleasurable nature.

“Now look at the plate all in pieces,” said Eliza. “It was unkind of Toby.”

“It likes it,” said the latter after a moment’s inspection. “Only one plate. Now three, five, sixteen.”

“No, it does not like it. How would Toby like to be broken?” “Toby little boy.”

“Will he eat that pudding?” said Bennet. “It will be safer not to try.”
“After all that,” said Eliza.

Toby looked up in a frowning manner, and after a minute of watching the pudding disappear, made signs of peremptory demand. He was given a portion and ate it without help, scraping his plate and setting down his spoon with precision. Then he gave a reminiscent giggle.

“Another plate.”

“You have one in front of you,” said Henry. “Oh, no,” said Toby.

“You are a good boy not to throw it,” said Eliza. “Not throw it. Oh, no. Poor plate.”

“You are too big to be so naughty,” said Bennet to Henry. “Toby sets you an example.”

“You always tell us to amuse him,” said Megan, “and nothing has ever amused him so much.”

“Amuse him,” said Toby. “Toby laugh, didn’t he?” “Why did he think it was so funny?” said Megan. Toby looked up as if interested in the response.

“He has a sense of humour like a savage,” said Henry. “No,” said his brother.

“Savages laugh when the others’ heads are blown off, even when their own are just going to be. Their minds are like Toby’s.”

“Or like yours, when you told him about the plate,” said Eliza, with simply disparaging intent.

“Henry,” said Toby, in agreement with this criticism. “Dear Toby!”

“Now you must be ready to go downstairs,” said Bennet, rising and laying hands on Megan.

“Can’t we send down word that I am not very well?” Bennet continued her ministrations without reply.

“Dear Toby!” said the latter, leaning towards Bennet in insistence on this point of view.

“Yes, yes, dear Toby!”

Toby relapsed into his own pursuits, and wrapping his bib round his mug, rocked it to and fro.

“The mug would break, if you threw it down,” said Henry. Toby raised a warning finger and hushed the mug in his arms.




p.s. Hey. I’m super happy today that the blog is doing its part to help usher back into print and the world the long awaited republication of one of my all-time very favorite novels by the great, molecular scientist-like prose stylist Ivy Compton-Burnett. If you haven’t yet gloried in her prose, start here. In any case, please enjoy the show. ** David Ehrenstein, Yep all the way around. ** Bill, Hi. I’d do ‘Mon Oncle’ next if it enters your radar. I did indeed have a Charles Matton post way back somewhere, you’re right. Huh, I really need to find and restore that. My weekend was happily a brief respite from the TV thing, yes, thank you, and I hope yours was a respite from your TV thing-equivalent if there is such a thing. ** Misanthrope, Well, that’s exciting news. I’m sure you’ll be amazing for your age. Do it. I kind of miss playing guitar as I did back in my teens although I also remember why I gave it up. My playing, unlike yours, accrued no kudos. Well, Rigby sounds like he’s living the life. Good on him. And you’re a kind dude to double as his importer. Max out your federal holidays. Oh, they must be aligned with Thanksgiving, no? ‘Mathilda’ drew deserved “awwwww”s from you? ** JM, Hey, J! I think the best way to approach Tati’s films is not think of them as comedies but rather as neutral things and let them effect you however they do. There’s a ton more than comedy going on in them. Ooh, great, thank you! For the link to your performance/reading! I’m all over that as of my first free minutes, i.e. not long from now. Everyone, JM aka the mighty writer/performer/more Josiah Morgan recently did a reading-slash-performance based on his fantastic recent Amphetamine Sulphate book ‘Inside the Castle’, and the only way 99.9% of us will ever get to see it since it occurred in New Zealand is to watch it on video. And we can! Click me. Stay great, buddy. ** Florian-Ayala Fauna, Hi! No kindness, just a natural biological reaction to that which should be seen. But thank you. Polaroids, totally. I miss their dominance. Um, no US trips cemented at the moment, but I need to get back ere too long. I’ll figure it out, and hopefully NYC will be a destination. Don’t give up on the gallery thing. It’s hell to nail down that kind of thing but worth the confidence and hassle. ** Steve Erickson, I think I’ve only read the Pitchfork Best of the ’10s list and it was as predictable and dull as dishwater. Creating hierarchies based around a standard notion of what constitutes the center and, thus, ‘most significant’ area of a cultural aspect is just playing a flighty game with an inflated sense of its importance. Or something. To me. I don’t think Tati thought of himself as making comedies in any official sort of sense, that’s the thing. Or anymore than filmmakers who make films that are dramatic consider themselves makers of drama films. I think in Tati’s case it was more about making films that were interested in surprising and delighting, etc. maybe. ** Armando, Hi, A. I am definitely looking forward to ‘A Hidden Life’ greatly, you bet. I’ve been primarily fine with a lot of hassles mixed in. Plans? Quick visit with my friend/collaborator Ishmael Houston-Jones who’s popping through Paris then maybe visit with other briefly visiting friends and then work. That’s the day I anticipate. And yours? ** sleepyj, Hey! Happy you returned. Ah, Coachella, gotcha. I would most definitely like very much to see those videos you mentioned if sharing is possible? Are they per chance on youtube or Vimeo or a place like that? I hope you enjoyed the beach. I’m a weirdo who mostly likes beaches at night. Or when it’s really cloudy/foggy. I hope your weekend ruled. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi, C. High Tati-ed five. Oh, cool, videos by you that can be imbibed. I’m there, or I will be. Everyone, the writer, filmmaker, d.l. Corey Heiferman has provided access to two of his very first video works which he characterises as Tati-like and Tati-audio-robbing, which is, obviously, an added lure. In any case, go watch them. ‘The Bathers’ and ‘In Flight Entertainment’. Yes, no? ** Cool, very cool, about the successful so far work on your film. On set re: PGL, Zac was on the frontlines doing the directing in an official way. Michael was at the camera giving Zac what he wanted and suggesting other possibilities. I was watching either the monitor or the live actors, mostly paying close attention to the performances to make sure all the notes were correctly hit, and talking with the actors between takes, nd also talking with Zac and Michael between takes re: any ideas that came up about any problems or I saw or highlights I especially liked or possible other approaches re: the filming itself that sprang to mind. If that makes sense. ** SmellsLikeKeaton, Hey. I can’t remember what my first French film was. Huh. You surprise every time, man. Sometimes like, “Boo!”, sometimes like, “Happy birthday!”, sometimes like, “Gotcha”, sometimes like … sky’s the limit. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. I don’t know that anything is ‘must viewing’ — such a pushy idea — but maybe ‘Playtime’ is. Enjoy the full-fledged ‘Climax’. No doubt. ** Okay. Again, help the blog celebrate this amazing novel’s rebirth by poring over the post and even reading the first chapter if you’re so inclined. Thanks, until tomorrow.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Novels written in dialogue are a very rarefied and affecting art, and their masters are William Gaddis and Ivy Compton-Burnett. But it should be noted that Ivy Compton-Burnett made Susan Sontag’s “Camp” list and William Gaddis did not.

  2. David Ehrenstein


    Here’s the interview

  3. Dominik


    Hey, Dennis. How are you? How was last week? How’s the TV script…?

    I’m in quite an inspired mood at the moment. I just watched a recording of Josiah Morgan’s performance of Inside the Castle and it blew my mind. It was overwhelming, very heavily so, and brave and so, so good.

    Jumping back to the discussion of the London film event: I thought the idea was to show the films without anyone, even you, knowing what they’ll be and THEN asking you to talk about the thoughts and ideas, etc. they triggered. But to ask you to talk before them while not knowing what comes next at all… it sounds like a total nightmare and, to be honest, I don’t really see the point of it either. I’m sorry even the films themselves turned out to be of little interest. Based on their subjects they sound like stuff I might enjoy but who knows, after this…

    And about the writer workshop: I think the little group is pretty open in the sense that they accept I use literature differently. What I’m not sure about is how much they can… I don’t know, connect might not be the best word but maybe it is. The second meeting is next Monday but there’ll be a lecture about criminal psychoanalysis at almost the same time elsewhere and I’m tempted to choose the latter.

    Any special plans for the week on your end? Mine seems to be open and waiting so far. We’ll see. And see you soon too!
    Lots & lots of love!!

  4. _Black_Acrylic

    I know that IC-B is a favourite of John Waters and I’m very inclined to check out her work soon. I’ll be down in Leeds for my Xmas hols next week, so I think this and Jane Bowles could be be keeping me company down there.

  5. Jeff J.

    Hey Dennis – Thanks so much for the bang-up job on this IC-B post! So much great stuff here. Dover editor Jeff G. sends his gratitude and big thanks.

    Loved the Tati post over the weekend – fabricated city-loads of dizzying brilliance in the GIFs alone and it made me want to revisit a few of his films like ‘Parade’ that I haven’t seen in ages.

    Did I tell you that I saw the new Malick a while back? I really liked it — it uses the editing language he’s developed over the last few movies to seamlessly break down time and space in a narrative format. It’s so effortless that I suspect the radicalness of the syntax will go entirely unnoticed. Wonderful use of odd lenses to in warping the perspective. On first viewing, I thought it was too long but affecting. Still sorting my thoughts on the story. Does it open there soon?

    Sorry to hear about the stressfulness of the TV script and hope there’s an end in sight soon. Spent the weekend recording what are hopefully final vocals for this long-simmering batch of Julian Calendar tunes. Also saw Met Live broadcast of Philip Glass’s ‘Aknaten,’ which wasn’t Robert Wilson but pretty eye-popping nonetheless and I dug the performances + score. Have you done a Wilson post here, btw?

  6. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Good deal on the republication. I’m happy for you. Of course, I need to read it myself.

    Yeah, for me, it’d be nice to be able to sit down and play an instrument. I was watching my friends jamming and was like, “I’d like to be able to do that.” I’ve always wanted to do that. Now’s the time to get off my ass and learn something new. Besides, I feel like it’ll help in other areas, including writing. If that makes sense. But the reason for it is just pure pleasure.

    Yep, Thanksgiving is Thursday, so I took off the days around it. Fuck it, gonna take that leave. Why not? December 13-15 is a Wines holiday, hehe. But I did take the two days off after Christmas to give myself another 5-day weekend. Just relaxing and watching porn and writing. Oh, did I mention watching porn? 😉

    Actually, I’m going with a bunch of friends to see Little Women (read: Timothee Chalamet) the day after Christmas. Already got my Star Wars tickets for December 21. We ordered those fuckers a few weeks ago. IMAX 3-D, bitches! RAWR!

    The play -Matilda- was way too long. (Why did I put an “h” in there originally?) But it was fun. My friend’s son played Bruce, the kid who eats the headmistress’ chocolate cake and gets put in the chokey. He was great. We went out to eat afterwards at a little Italian-Greek place and that was good. This friend of mine I’ve known for 30 years and she’s stuck with me through my worst. It was good to catch up.

    Oh, and do find an excuse to get to NYC. Then I’ll have an excuse. And then I’ll bug you for a couple hours and then go home and then you’ll be like, “I’m NEVER going to NYC again! MISANTHROPE!!!!!!!!” (You yell that last like Dave in Alvin and the Chipmunks. 😀 )

  7. Steve Erickson

    My current problems with anxiety and depression have led me to cancel my trip to see my parents for Thanksgiving. If I can barely get out of bed (which isn’t the way I feel every day, but it is the case about 25% of the time, including today), I don’t think travel is a good idea, and I don’t really want to spend time with my folks in that state.

    Listening to Fire-Toolz now for the first time. This is awesome!

    As far as mainstream outlets’ lists of the best albums of the 2010s, Vice was the only one to reflect any personality (with an emphasis on both Latin music and heavy metal and some odd choices for well-known artists, like a Chief Keef mixtape I’ve never heard of.) Power Trip and DJ Rashad both landed in their top 10. Elsewhere, it felt like editors were just trying to list the most “influential” or “significant” albums, not necessarily the ones they liked most (although on the poll of Pitchfork readers’ favorites, you had to go to #17 to find an album that didn’t hit the US top 10, so they know the audience they’re trying to reach.)

  8. Bill

    Hmm, I should be able to score a library copy of this soon. Interesting, I see Compton-Burnett has a fondness for titles of the form “X and Y”. “Manservant and Maidservant”. “Parents and Children”…

    The new Swans double CD just showed up in my mailbox! The first 15 mins are very nice so far. Gira’s taking a different approach, with distinguished guests, but the tracks I’ve heard don’t sound that different from his previous few records.


  9. sleepyj

    Hi! I don’t have a Vimeo or youtube channel yet but I’m working on getting something together. The beach is wild at night; I didn’t have a chance to visit after hours but maybe next time 🙂

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