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A Favourite of the Gods and A Compass Error

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A Favourite of the Gods is the story of two generations of a single family, united by a strong matrilineal bond but divided by the customs of their differing nationalities. Anna Howland, the matriarch and American heiress, born in the 1870s to a prominent, liberal New England family marries an Italian prince and makes her home in Rome; her daughter Constanza, the favorite of the title, inherits her mother’s beauty, intelligence, and wealth, along with her father’s Catholicism, which she soon rejects.

When disaster strikes, Anna and the prince fall back on the standards of behavior of their disparate cultures; Constanza, with her European upbringing, is free to plot her own course, and she does so with daring, making an unconventional life for herself in England and on the continent during and after the First World War.

Her own daughter Flavia is the heroine of A Compass Error , which begins where the first novel concludes. Flavia too is a brilliant young woman, though both more brash and more faltering than her mother, studying for her entrance exam to Oxford when she becomes involved with a mysterious woman whose arrival at a sensitive moment in Flavia’s adolescence will alter both her and her mother’s lives forever.

512 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1964

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About the author

Sybille Bedford

31 books75 followers
Sybille Bedford, OBE (16 March 1911 – 17 February 2006) was a German-born English writer. Many of her works are partly autobiographical. Julia Neuberger proclaimed her "the finest woman writer of the 20th century" while Bruce Chatwin saw her as "one of the most dazzling practitioners of modern English prose.


The Sudden View: a Mexican Journey - 1953 - (republished as A Visit to Don Otavio: a Traveller's Tale from Mexico, a travelogue)
A Legacy: A Novel - 1956 - her first novel, a work inspired by the early life of the author's father, which focuses on the brutality and anti-Semitism in the cadet schools of the German officer class.
The Best We Can Do: (The Trial of Dr Adams) - 1958 - an account of the murder trial of suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams
The Faces of Justice: A Traveller's report - 1961 - a description of the legal systems of England, Germany, Switzerland, and France.
A Favourite of the Gods - 1963 - a novel about an American heiress who marries a Roman Prince
A Compass Error - 1968 - a sequel to the above, describing the love affairs of the granddaughter of that work's protagonist
Aldous Huxley: A biography - 1973 - the standard, authorized biography of Huxley
Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education - 1989 - a sort of followup to A Legacy, this novel was inspired by the author's experiences living in Italy and France with her mother
As It Was: Pleasures, Landscapes and Justice - 1990 - a collection of magazine pieces on various trials, including the censorship of Lady Chatterley's Lover, the trial of Jack Ruby, and the Auschwitz trial, as well as pieces on food and travel.
Pleasures and Landscapes: A Traveller's Tales from Europe - a reissue of the above, removing the legal writings, and including two additional travel essays.
Quicksands: A Memoir - 2005 - A memoir of the author's life, from her childhood in Berlin to her experiences in postwar Europe.

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5 stars
15 (24%)
4 stars
26 (41%)
3 stars
19 (30%)
2 stars
2 (3%)
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Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
Profile Image for Donna.
Author 1 book42 followers
January 25, 2022
I enjoyed this a lot. But I didn’t read A Compass Error.
I was way too satisfied by the ending of the first book.
The author wanted to revisit the story and complete the
doings of the last generation. One page in and I thought, ‘I don’t want to know. I like how it ended and it feels complete.’ So don’t anybody tell me.
Profile Image for Laura.
6,912 reviews566 followers
July 27, 2019
Another excellent book written by Sybille Bedford!!

5* Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education
4* A Favourite of the Gods and a Compass Error
TR A Legacy
TR Aldous Huxley: A Biography
391 reviews5 followers
February 26, 2018
I used to love books like this...classic, coming of age stories of women in some particular society or another, mostly right before one of the great wars. Both these narratives fit the bill, but with the added benefit of some cultural criticism and political perspective. If you like Edith Wharton these are for you...but if you like Wharton, why not just read Custom of the Country and Age of Innocence agin?
Profile Image for パットリク.
23 reviews9 followers
October 10, 2021
I wrote a previous one-paragraph about A Favourite of the Gods and how I liked the characters, their development, but the panoramic, distant approach was all wrong. I think I might know the reason why.

These two novels are the first I've read from Sybille Bedford, who a bookseller recommended to me off the discount pallet here in Seattle. Her prime claim to fame is as a memoirist, of a half-novelist breed. These two stories comprise the first proper novels that she had ever written, back in '63 and '68 respectively. Despite my finding them on the discount pallet, I wouldn't call the stories "discount stories." There's a lot of interesting drama between generations, cultures, points of view, and the incapacity to regard the sight of . One particular talent of a good storyteller, probably their most important, is their ability to abscond plot structures away from the readers eyes. In this case, Sybille's distant approach, which we can assume stems from a lack of confidence, works to the novel's benefit. Real life often does not play according to dramatic conventions; it is comprised of a mush of events that we make sense of through narrative. Sybille does a good job of displaying this mush, even if it comes at the expense of creating a page-turner.

In all honesty though, I didn't really need to read A Favourite because Flavia in A Compass Error basically told me its whole plot down to the minutest detail, which is quite difficult to believe. I mean, there was a lot of drama going on in my family long before I was born, but I can't tell you specifics of arguments my grandparents had in the seventies. I found myself skipping through pages to save time, hoping I could learn something about Flavia or her perspective. Unfortunately, it was about as objective as the narrator.

The second book is much more autobiographical as the narrator draws on her experiences with some person who I can confidently state was a manipulative narcissist, based on how the character he inspired, Andrée, behaves like one. I quite liked her exchanges with Flavia - her motivations and attitude really fit the bill, even if at times I found Flavia's attraction towards her hard to believe. Ah yes, another positive aspect of Compass: sapphic romance! Much of it implied, never shown, and also kind of predatory when one takes into consideration that Flavia was just a teenager.

I'll probably reread this again after I've plowed through some of Sybille's better works.
Profile Image for john lambert.
163 reviews
July 27, 2021
Again, got this book from NY Times Sunday book review. Do you see a pattern here? The author has written probably 10 books, some non-fiction and a biography of Aldous Huxley. Might be an interesting read.

This book is written very straight forward, no fancy literary wings. It's the story of an American woman (rich) who marries an Italian and then lives in Italy. She has a good life but then gets really pissed at her husband and off she goes with her daughter. Then it's the daughter's story, who grows up in London. Neither of them have lifted a finger in honest work in their lives! Ah, to be rich before and after WWI. The daughter has a daughter and it's her story.

It's well written. Seems like a book out of the time period of Thackeray or Dickens in that it's about the lives and inner lives of rich people. (Not all Dickens, of course.) It was published in 1963.

There really wasn't a moment where I was checking how long the book was. The women are interesting. Read it!!
Profile Image for Jonathan yates.
193 reviews4 followers
July 5, 2019
This book is actually pretty good, the real problem for me as a reader is that it's a coming of age story that is too clean, so basically anyone who has read through the classics will have already read all the ideas in this book and on top of that the book has not aged that well, the main character is caught up in some morality issues that are not deep enough to be interesting and just seem absurd in light of our present day reality, this is clearly not the fault of the writer yet it does make it hard to read as a reader in 2019
Profile Image for Jeff.
270 reviews
July 17, 2023
4.5 stars for each of the superb novels in this pairing.
Profile Image for Frederica.
22 reviews4 followers
September 7, 2019
This was the first Sybille Bedford book I read, and I think it's a very good entry point to her work. I have been describing it to people as a book about what happens to the people in a Henry James novel after the Henry James novel is over. If you love turn-of-the-century and between-the-wars Europe, as well as extremely flawed (but lovable) characters, you will enjoy this and other works by Sybille Bedford.
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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