Hilary Spurling   Ivy: The Life of I. Compton-Burnett.
Knopf, 621 pages, $22.95

Ivy Compton-Burnett, the English novelist, died in 1969 at the age of eighty-five, known for her nineteen novels, but not well known. She wrote no memoirs or autobiography, no criticism, no short stories, no essays, poetry, or nonfictional reportage. She did not participate in panel discussions or teach or give lectures or read papers or speak at conferences on modern literature. She was rarely interviewed, not active in literary organizations, not on committees of writers or on radio and television programs. She did not organize petitions or protests, she was not seen in restaurants or pubs, or in Cornwall, St. Tropez, Gstaad, Ischia, Rhodes or Marrakech. She did not talk about her writing; when she and T. S. Eliot met, they discussed fishmongers and greengrocers. After she died, her private papers consisted of little more than a shoe box...

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