I think I might one day enjoy More Women than Men by Ivy Compton-Burnett but not today. I have made it about a third of the way through the book and for every passage that delights me, there are four or five incongruous passages that make my head spin. It takes a certain suspension of disbelief in order to stomach her dialogue, which is amusing but utterly foreign to the way people actually speak, like this bit between two of the teachers at the girls’ school where the book is set:
‘You are settling in?’ she said. ‘Why not sit down and let me unpack for you?’
‘I see no reason against it,’ said Helen. ‘At least none that need weigh with me, if it does not with you.’
‘This is your first post?’
‘Yes; or perhaps I should be prepared to be unpacked for by my seniors. It is a custom here? A way of putting new-comers at their ease?’
‘Well, I have done it before.’
‘If it is not invariably done, it does not put me at my ease.’
‘Is this the latest fashion, and this the one before?’ said Miss Rosetti, handling some dresses with open interest.
‘It does not put me at my ease to be told that my second gown is out of date. Have you never been taught about poverty not being a thing to be ashamed of?’
‘I have always been ashamed of it. I would save anyone in my power from it. I have done so in the one case I could. I can alter the dress so that it bears no hint of it. I am a better dressmaker than I have any reason to be. You need not be afraid of my old maid’s history.’
‘But why should you trouble about other people’s clothes? And I have not convinced myself that poverty is shameful.’
‘The clothes are not other people’s. They are yours. And things like poverty and old age and death are shameful. We cannot help them; but that is the humiliation. To accept conditions that would not be your choice must be a disgrace.’
Her style is certainly unique and quite fascinating but I do not have the patience for it right now. She is an acquired taste, I can see that, and one I hope to acquire soon but not quite yet. Just as the all the characters had been introduced and the story was beginning to progress, I found myself staring longingly at all the other books I have sitting on my dresser waiting to be read, all of which seem so much more appealing at this minute. Clearly, this is a sign that I must move on: Mollie Panter-Downes’ London War Notes, 1939-1945 awaits.