Pastors and Masters

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Pastors and Masters
First edition
Author Ivy Compton-Burnett
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Heath Cranton
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover)

Pastors and Masters is a short novel by Ivy Compton-Burnett published in 1925. Set in the present in an old English university town, it is about two academics with literary pretensions and the small circle of family and friends surrounding them.

Plot summary[edit]

70-year-old Nicholas Herrick owns and heads a small day school for 10- to 14-year-old boys in the vicinity of his old alma mater but only spends ten minutes a day at the school to read prayers in the morning. The school is run by Charles Merry, a 50-year-old man without a degree who has become a schoolmaster out of financial necessity. Married with four young daughters, he does his best to keep up appearances and make parents believe—mainly on Herrick's behalf—that they are sending their sons to the right school, despite their inadequate equipment and their motley staff of only four: Merry himself; his wife (known as Mother), a mother figure as unqualified to teach as her husband; Miss Basden, an unmarried middle-aged schoolmistress with slight feminist tendencies; and Mr Burgess, a very young and inexperienced graduate.

Herrick, who lives together with his unmarried sister Emily, deplores the fact that he has never got round to writing a novel, which in his eyes would make him a "real author". As a matter of fact, his lack of talent has prevented him from ever having a book published, and so he keeps spending his days idling in his study. When a very old don dies and Herrick helps clear out his rooms he finds the typescript of a short novel which he believes the deceased academic has written. He steals it and claims that he has had a sudden inspiration for his long-due book. At about the same time Richard Bumpus, a don and a friend of the Herricks, announces his intention to publish a short novel, a complete rewriting of the book he authored as a young man and the only copy of which, as he found it of inferior quality and thus inadequate for publication, he asked William Masson, a friend and colleague, to bury in someone's grave.

The night Herrick and Bumpus want to give a reading from their respective works in progress Masson surprises everyone by stating that he has actually kept, and read, Bumpus's youthful foray into fiction and that he is looking forward to comparing the two versions. When the two authors discover that their first sentences are identical it becomes clear that neither of them has written anything recently and that the only novel which ever existed is Bumpus's early work.

Read on[edit]