A Favourite of the Gods and A Compass Error
by Sybille Bedford, introduction by Daniel Mendelsohn
A Favourite of the Gods is the story of two generations of a single family, united by a strong matrilineal bond but divided by the customs of their differing nationalities. Anna Howland, the matriarch and American heiress, born in the 1870s to a prominent, liberal New England family marries an Italian prince and makes her home in Rome; her daughter Constanza, the favorite of the title, inherits her mother’s beauty, intelligence, and wealth, along with her father’s Catholicism, which she soon rejects in the course of her unconventional but first-rate education.
When disaster strikes, Anna and the prince fall back on the conventional standards of behavior of their disparate cultures; Constanza, with her European upbringing, is free to develop her own moral code, to plot her own course in life, and she does so with fantastic daring, making an unconventional life for herself in England and on the continent at the time of the first world war and its aftermath.
Her own daughter Flavia, introduced in A Favourite of the Gods, is the heroine of A Compass Error, which begins where the first novel concludes. Flavia too is a brilliant young woman, though both more brash and more faltering than her mother, studying in France for her entrance exam to Oxford when she becomes involved with a mysterious woman whose arrival at a sensitive moment in Flavia’s adolescence will alter both her and her mother’s lives forever.by Sybille Bedford, introduction by Daniel Mendelsohn
Taken as a tour of a picture gallery hung with family portraits painted in elegant and commanding style, A Favourite of the Gods has its own unmistakable distinction.
—Virgilia Peterson, Newsday
Often compared to Henry James, [in A Compass Error] Mrs. Bedford moves through an expatriated, cultivated circle just before the war with an older, equally unattached, less knowing Maisie...one cannot overlook the assured presence of a graceful, worldly writer.
Sybille Bedford’s A Compass Error is a moving and fascinating novel...a witty book, both in sentiment and idiom...full of civilised and satisfying ironies.... There is a notable element of suspense which is cunningly sustained, both on a moral and a practical level, to the last page.... Now more than ever we must be grateful to Mrs. Bedford for her stout resistance to all those who claim authority over us.
—Simon Raven, The Spectator
In its diversity, its erudition, and above all, its moral and intellectual fastidiousness, Sybille Bedford’s work is...subtle in its evocation of place and delineation of character...a wonderfully effective lesson in the art of story-telling.... This Favourite of the Gods, blessed by them with so multifaceted a talent, deserves to become the favourite of every discerning novel-reader.
—Francis King, The Spectator
Sybille Bedford has an original talent. Her portraits are razor sharp and individual and she views the world with wit, irony, and cool restraint. In [A Favourite of the Gods], she gives a panoramic view of life where each action plays its part in determining events to come.
—Grace P. Comans, The Hartford Courant
Gracefully written and, in one portion, as filled with suspense as anything you are likely to find...A Compass Error gives much pleasure.
—Cecile Shapiro, Saturday Review
A Jamesian world artfully re-shaped by an unconventional female writer.
—Emma Hagestadt, The Independent
[A Compass Error] demonstrates a firm control of form and a clarity of style.
—Stanley Reynolds, New Statesman
A Compass Error has major virtues. It has narrative strength, felicity of phrase and the ability to evoke, with the most exquisite economy, the way people used to live and behave.... An important, perhaps a major book.
—Meryle Secrest, The Washington Post