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Manservant and Maidservant

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3.49  ·  Rating Details ·  210 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
At once the strangest and most marvelous of Ivy Compton-Burnett's fictions, Manservant and Maidservant has for its subject the domestic life of Horace Lamb, sadist, skinflint, and tyrant. But it is when Horace undergoes an altogether unforeseeable change of heart that the real difficulties begin. Is the repentant master a victim along with the former slave? And how can any ...more
Paperback, (New York Review Books Classics), 309 pages
Published March 12th 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1947)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Richard Derus
Jan 30, 2012 Richard Derus rated it did not like it
Rating: NO stars of five

BkC9) Next to SONS AND LOVERS, the worst, most horrendously offensively overrated piece of crap I've read in my life.

I have no reason to revisit this decision. I still feel slightly ill when I think about this boring, annoying book. I left my copy on the subway so some wino would pick it up and realize that life has more to offer than misery, boredom, and despair.

I refuse to go any further into this book's gynecology. I hate it too much, and yet still am not masochist eno
...more
Terence
Dec 30, 2008 Terence rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All my GR friends, esp. the "Victorians"
Recommended to Terence by: Michael Dirda, "Classics for Pleasure"
When I read Michael Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure I came away with a list of interesting prospects; Manservant and Maidservant was the last on that list. Every one of Dirda’s recommendations has panned out but none more so than this novel. I had put off reading my copy for the longest time because I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. I don’t have a native love of Victorian authors (or Victorian-style authors, Compton-Burnett published this in 1947); some I like, some I don’t. But from the first page ...more
orsodimondo
Nov 27, 2012 orsodimondo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: inglese
LA GRANDE SIGNORINA
Horace Lamb è un padre tiranno avarissimo che, pur vivendo dei soldi della moglie Charlotte, risparmia su tutto.
Fa soffrire il freddo (molte scene si svolgono davanti al caminetto, al fuoco acceso o spento) ai figli e a tutta la famiglia, e anche la fame ai suoi figli che manda in giro con vestiti vecchi e malmessi.
La moglie Charlotte medita di lasciarlo per Mortimer, il cugino di Horace, da lui mantenuto perché non possiede nulla e non lavora.

Poco nota, non particolarmente
...more
Sandi
Jul 24, 2009 Sandi rated it liked it
Recommended to Sandi by: Terence
If Oscar Wilde and Molière tried to write Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, they might have come up with something like Manservant and Maidservant. On one hand, this book seems to be a comedy of errors like The Importance of Being Earnest. On the other hand, it seems to be a satire like The Misanthrope. On yet the other hand, there is a delightful storyline revolving around the five Lamb children that's reminiscent of some perennially popular 19th Century children's novels.

I kept hearing th
...more
Tony
Jun 14, 2012 Tony rated it it was ok
MANSERVANT AND MAIDSERVANT. (1947). Ivy Compton-Burnett. **.
I’m not sure how I managed to make it through this novel, but I finally did. This is the first novel I’ve read by this author, and, likely the last. It is the story of an English household in Victorian times. The master of the house, Horace Lamb, is a tyrant, and rules the household in an iron grip. His wife, Charlotte, is preparing to leave him, to elope with his cousin, Mortimer. Mortimer was a ward of Horace’s father, and lives with
...more
Alan
Jun 16, 2013 Alan rated it it was amazing
In Manservant and Maidservant, Compton-Burnett eases her staccato prose, laden with interstitial tone and meaning, though it remains mostly dialog frosted with lies--lies in their infinite variety of dissembling and concealment. The exception is the children, who echo the truths the adults avoid; the children have the most astute lines in the book. C-B's "novels" are really plays, pared down to electric flashes as if crossing gaps, shorting out. Considered in the large, they are comedy of manner ...more
Nicole
This book is extremely odd, and far more difficult than I had expected. It took longer and required much more sustained attention than I thought it would.

Other reviewers have described the dialog (and the book is nearly entirely dialog) as "stilted"; I can see what they mean, but I think this is the case only because the characters' lives are also stilted. With the exception of George, who shows rountine signs of both emotion and wild inappropriateness, the characters seem to be able to do terr
...more
Klatsoot
Jan 14, 2012 Klatsoot rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: literary masochists
Shelves: lit
Drudgery! While I appreciated the style the novel was written in--driven by dialog and bare, "stage" directions--I found the characters mostly repellant in their dullness.

The tutor's mother, Gertrude, was infuriatingly, gratingly, self-righteous. I suppose her character was meant in parody, but it caused me anguish.

One character--that of Mortimer--was consistently entertaining. The section where Horace confronts Mortimer, and the ensuing dialog there, is really brilliant. I would assign that s
...more
Li'l Vishnu
Feb 08, 2010 Li'l Vishnu rated it liked it
‘We need not make fun of them. We are a family ourselves.’ — Horace, p. 90

This is predictably stodgy and I mean that as a compliment. In the way of Waugh, Wodehouse, Wilde. Is she better or worse than them? At times, the conversations are just her trying to outdo herself. But she DOES have like eighteen main characters to wrangle around. And I didn’t find myself forgetting who was who. Even with all the children.

She isn’t as funny as Waugh, but she is, I think, pithier. In a way that Bartlett’s
...more
Maureen
Dec 12, 2009 Maureen rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010
i wish i could say i liked this more than i did. compton-burnett's novel is very like a play. it is evident that she has a very strong command of the english language, and of dialogue, but it was not enough to carry the book, which left me cold. the bottom line, as it often is, is that i didn't like the people in this book. i didn't like horace, the patriarch/bully at the centre of the piece, i didn't like mortimer, his milque-toast cousin and would-be cuckold, or horace's wife charlotte, or the ...more
Bobbie Darbyshire
Dec 18, 2012 Bobbie Darbyshire rated it it was ok
A professor of English suggested that I read Ivy Compton-Burnett for an example of how to conjure setting through dialogue. Having done so, I'm not sure I understand what he meant. It's written almost entirely in complex, stilted dialogue, almost as if the characters are making speeches on stage. The settings were sketchily evoked and hardly mattered. The interplay between the characters is interesting, but the story creaks. I felt it needed actors to bring it to life - to decide whether to play ...more
David
Oct 30, 2016 David rated it really liked it
This is my first encounter with the author Ivy Compton-Burnett, after having meant to read her for years (decades, really). My colleague Andrea C. had read it and warned me it was odd, and she was right. The structural feature that makes it unusual is that the story is predominantly told in dialogue, which does take some getting used to -- though after a while, you do, or at least, I did (Andrea said the same, so don't let that feature put you off). It's almost, but not quite, like reading a pla ...more
James
May 10, 2011 James rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, comedy
I have always been curious about Ivy Compton-Burnett becuase of the descriptions of her work as a dark cynical wit, stripping bare the pretensions of her time. When I finally sat down to read Manservant and Maidservant I was expecting something along the lines of Saki and was sadly disapointed. Essentially everything takes place in an on the surface humdrum fashion with dark undercurrants revealed layer by layer in the dialogue between the various characters who all regardless of age, gender or ...more
Trever Polak
Although set in Victorian England and written by an author who lived through the Victorian period, there's very little about Manservant and Maidservant that's Victorian. The characters, true, talk like they're all Oscar Wilde, but Compton-Burnett clearly sees right past their facades. Nobody ever means what they say here, and everyone has skeletons in their closets (or out in the open). Although it can get a bit hard to follow if you don't pay attention, Manservant and Maidservant is masterfully ...more
Katie Cruel
Dec 22, 2012 Katie Cruel rated it did not like it
Shelves: classics
The dialogue killed me. Nobody talks like this, expect maybe people in poorly written screenplays.

I'm sure there is genius in Burnett; maybe I'm looking for all the wrong things in the wrong place. But Austen had reaped free narrative discourse about 140 years earlier and Woolf had done such beautiful things with this and stream of consciousness and throughout the book I just wanted to reach through time, slap Burnett, and command her to use the tools her processors had painstakingly honed for h
...more
Rosemary
May 13, 2011 Rosemary rated it really liked it
This book, first published in 1947, is set at least 50 years earlier and focuses narrowly on one family with a rather tyrannical father, their neglected children, their servants, and a very small number of friends. The story is mainly told through dialogue and that, with the limited number of characters and settings, makes it seem almost like reading a play. The dialogue is clever in a witty way and requires a certain amount of concentration.

I liked it a lot and I think I will enjoy more of her
...more
Shelley
Aug 03, 2013 Shelley rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
This book was published in 1947, two years after Henry Green's book Loving, which has a similar story about the contrast between the servants of a large British house and the family members. I have no idea whether or not the authors knew each other but I think they would have had an interesting conversation about class consciousness in these situations.

I have to say that I prefer Green's book, but this one has its own quirky assets. The two are a good double bill...
alessandra falca
Dec 01, 2014 alessandra falca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Com'è che nessuno legge la signorina Ivy Compton-Burnett? Ho letto questo libro in tre giorni esatti. Un libro fatto tutto di dialoghi serratissimi, di aforismi lancinanti, un libro perfetto e di grande cinismo e cattiveria. E' leggera, allegra velocissima e nello stesso tempo intrisa di pessimismo cosmico. A tratti ricorda Beckett e Jonesco. Com'è che nessuno legge Ivy Compton-Burnett? Appena trovo un altro libro lo compro. Ne ha scritti 18 e io sono solo al primo. Che fortuna!
Charlotte
Feb 09, 2012 Charlotte rated it liked it
An interesting read more for the writer's personal history than the book itself. It is Victorian English and almost all dialogue, so it takes some getting used to. However, Compton-Burnett's personal history was so Victorian itself that you can understand why a contemporary of Virgina Wolff was writing like a Jane Austen ocntemporary.
Nathan
Jul 28, 2012 Nathan rated it really liked it
Sometimes children are nasty little buggers. But then, those nasties came from somewhere; more often than not, much taller beasties, who should rather know better.
Margrete
Mar 09, 2017 Margrete rated it really liked it
Shelves: historic-novels
At first I wasn't sure I wanted to finish the book as it seemed rather slow and not all that involved. But half-way through there was a "happening" that suddenly changed the direction of the book and you wondered if the characters had really changed. It was worth finishing and is one of those books that you think about and ponder after the fact. I'd recommend it if you're interested in family Victorian Life. And, i did find it somewhat difficult to read as (and it's stated in the introduction) i ...more
Kate Vane
Jan 08, 2017 Kate Vane rated it it was amazing
Manservant and Maidservant is so different from anything I’ve read – classic or contemporary – that I struggled with it at first (though that may also have been due to the tiny font and yellowing paper of my ancient library copy). I’m so glad I persevered.

Although it was published in 1947, the novel is set some fifty years earlier. It tells the story of the Lamb family. Horace Lamb is a petty tyrant in his own household, though he in turn is beholden to his wife’s wealth. His dependent cousin, M
...more
Laura
Dec 28, 2008 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, fiction
“But I will tell you something that I could breathe to no one else. She is not as much the meaning of my life as I thought. Separation has estranged us, or shown us the truth, or done some other shameful thing. I am so glad to have the word to breathe to you; I should not have liked to part without one. And now our parting is quite a success. I do not think my life has any meaning. And I find I do not want it to have any. I am one of those creatures who drag out a meaningless existence, and they ...more
Frank
Jul 18, 2011 Frank rated it liked it
Entertaining in spots, but on the whole I have to agree with Joyce Carol Oates' eloquent assessment in her review of Compton-Burnett's biography in The New York Times, avaible online here:
These are refreshing moments; but the overall effect of a Compton-Burnett work is that of listening to actors recite lines in a deliberately self-conscious and self- mocking manner, aware of the absurdity of the awkward plot conventions in which they are involved (hidden letters, destroyed wills, newfound wills
...more
Karen
Jul 16, 2016 Karen marked it as to-read
* 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list: Family and Self

Selected by the Guardian's Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language. Originally published in thematic supplements – love, crime, comedy, family and self, state of the nation, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel – they appear here for the first time.
Deborah J
Mar 31, 2016 Deborah J rated it liked it
So weird. The dialogue-only, no-frills style takes time to adjust to, but the sense of menace and of humour too is conjured up brilliantly. The book captures a time and a milieu that no longer exist - and didn't exist by the time it was written - but it draws you in completely. A lesson in how to evoke atmosphere and characters without adjectives - many authors could usefully take note!
Eric
Mar 06, 2015 Eric rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
This was hyped as a bizarre and funny period piece. It's mostly written in dialogue and reads more like a complex play. The children speak well above their years which produces some funny bits, but overall it was a bit of a slog to get through.
Andi Emmett
Jan 16, 2013 Andi Emmett added it
Shelves: favourites
Disturbing
Whit
Jun 01, 2007 Whit rated it it was amazing
Very difficult to read but it is worth it.
Geoffrey
Apr 24, 2016 Geoffrey rated it really liked it
Odd and interesting. I feel like my overall opinion could easily change in either direction, but it's certainly elegant and stylized in a way I've never quite seen before.
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NYRB Classics: Manservant and Maidservant, by Ivy Compton-Burnett 2 7 Oct 28, 2013 02:53PM  
  • The Three Sisters
  • The Sound of My Voice
  • Angel
  • The Shrimp and the Anemone
  • A Legacy
  • Mr. Fortune's Maggot; and, The Salutation
  • The Ordeal of Richard Feverel
  • Fortunes of Richard Mahony
  • The Middle of the Journey
  • School for Love
  • The Survivors of the Chancellor (Extraordinary Voyages, #13)
  • The Chateau
  • The Fountain Overflows
  • Corrigan
  • Death in Summer
  • The Mountain Lion
  • Room Temperature
  • The Three Paradoxes
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Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett, DBE was an English novelist, published (in the original hardback editions) as I. Compton-Burnett. She was awarded the 1955 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for her novel Mother and Son.
More about Ivy Compton-Burnett...

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