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.