Books: Household Tyrants

THE LAST AND THE FIRST by I. Compton-Burnett. 147 pages. Knopf. $5.95.

Dame Ivy Compton-Burnett, who died two years ago at 85, has often been called a "writer's writer." This is a handy term to describe such authors as Ronald Firbank, Henry Green and Saki, whom other writers often cite as important influences but who seldom stay in print.

In Dame Ivy's case, popular neglect is easy to understand. All 20 of her books are family novels set in upper-class England around the turn of the century. Though she wrote about such interesting topics as money, greed, death and incest, she was uncompromisingly...

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