Minna and Sophia

Tomorrow I’m going to post a review of a 1936 novel (about which I am a bit ambivalent, but which definitely has its good aspects) but I noted down far too many quotations to put in one post.  So I thought I’d give you one today, as a taster, without any further information about the novel.   Some of you will be able to identify it from the characters’ names, I’m sure, but for those of you who can’t – here’s a rare chance to encounter two characters without any back-knowledge.  It’s rather a pivotal excerpt, too long to incorporate into my review, but quite beautiful and interesting – if only the whole novel had been at this level!

Minna was not beautiful, nor young.  Her principles were so inconsistent that to all intents and purposes she had no principles at all.  Her character was a character of extremes: magnanimous and unscrupulous, fickle, ardent, and interfering.  Her speaking voice was exquisite and her talent of words exquisitely cultivated, but she frequently talked great nonsense.  Similarly, her wits were sharp and her artfulness consummate, and for all that she was maddeningly gullible.  She offered nothing that Sophia had been brought up to consider as love-worthy or estimable, for what good qualities she had must be accepted with their opposites, in an inconsequential pell-mell of wheat and tares.

Sophia had been brought up in a world policed by oughts.  One ought to venerate age, one ought to admire the beautiful.  One ought to love ugly Mary Thompson because she was so clean, God because He was so good, prating Mr. Scarby because he was so honest and paid all his son’s debts, scolding cousin Arabella because she was so capable, Mamma because she was so kind, Frederick because he was her husband.  One ought to devote oneself to one’s children because, if well brought up, they would be a comfort in one’s old age.  Behind every love or respect stood a monitorial reason, and one’s emotions were the expression of a bargaining between demand and supply, a sort of political economy.  At a stroke, Minna had freed her from all this.  Unbeautiful and middle-aged, unprincipled and not intellectual, vain, unreposeful, and with a complexion that could look greasy, she offered her one flower, liberty.  One could love her freely, unadmonished and unblackmailed by any merits of body or mind.  She made no more demands upon one’s moral approval than a cat, she was not even a good mouser.  One could love her for the only sufficient reason that one chose to.

4 thoughts on “Minna and Sophia

  • May 2, 2012 at 6:42 am
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    I'm not putting in my guess here because it's not a guess — as you know I recently started and then finally abandoned this novel. Although I thought Minna was an interesting character, and often the prose was excellent, the plot just didn't do it for me. Anyway I will comment more when you reveal all.

    Reply
    • May 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm
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      Minna was also incredibly like Warner's partner Valentine Ackland – although, bizarrely, she wrote this before she met VA.

      Reply
  • May 2, 2012 at 9:42 am
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    Intriguing – I know which book this is and reviewers seem to be polarised about it, either loving or hating – will be interested to hear what you think.

    (Am just about to embark on my first Ivy Compton-Burnett – wish me luck!!)

    Reply
    • May 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm
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      Good luck!! I look forward to hearing your thoughts here or elsewhere. I'm about to review an ICB, actually…

      Reply

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