Eleanor and Fulbert Sullivan live, with their nine children ranging from nursery to university age, in a huge country house belonging to Fulbert's parents, Sir Jesse and Lady Regan. Sir Jesse sends Fulbert, his only son, on a business mission to South America. News comes of Fulbert's death, and his executor, Ridley Cranmer, plans an impulsive marriage to Eleanor. But is Fulbert really dead? And what is the mystery surrounding the parentage of the three strange Marlowes living in genteel penury on the fringe of the great estate? Parents and Children is less savage in theme than some of Ivy Compton-Burnett's fiction and, with its richly funny scenes with the children and happily resolved ending, makes a perfect introduction to this distinguished author's highly individual world - a closed world of intense relationships within late Victorian upper-class families, a world in which the normally unspoken is stated and the unthinkable enacted, with dark revelations blandly emerging from formal speeches of great subtlety.
Compton-Burnett was encouraged by her liberal and unorthodox father, homeopath Dr Burnett, to prepare to read classics at London university (neither Oxford nor Cambridge gave degrees to women at this time). She had dearly loved her father, who died without warning from a heart attack in 1901 when she was sixteen. Her closest brother died three years later, and Ivy Compton-Burnett went on to lose three more of her younger siblings and her mother by the time she was 35, something she could hardly bear to speak about, but constantly explored in her novels. Compton-Burnett published twenty novels, the first while she was in her 20s, in 1911. However, the first of her works to use her mature and startlingly original style was published when she was 40, in 1925. Compton-Burnett’s fiction deals with domestic situations in large households which, to all intents and purposes, invariably seem Edwardian. She was named a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1967.