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Barbara Comyns Biography

(1909–92), Sisters by a River, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, The Skin Chairs

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British novelist, born in Bidford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, educated at art schools in Stratford-on-Avon and London. Her unusual childhood, peopled by numerous sisters and governesses, a deaf mother, and an authoritarian father, was the subject of her first novel, Sisters by a River (1947), and is also the framework of two subsequent novels, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954) and The Skin Chairs (1962). Her later experiences of bohemian art-school life and her first marriage to an artist became the subject of her two most engaging novels, Our Spoons Came from Woolworths (1950) and A Touch of Mistletoe (1967). Her second marriage and life in Spain are depicted in Out of the Red into the Blue (1960). Her reputation largely rested on The Vet's Daughter (1959), which was acclaimed by Graham Greene and turned into a musical, The Clapham Wonder, until her work was reprinted in the 1980s. Since then, she published The Juniper Tree (1985); an earlier unpublished work, Mr Fox (1987); and The House of Dolls (1989) which, in Comyns's characteristically faux-naif style, both wickedly amusing and plaintive, tells of four middle-aged ladies who become amateur prostitutes. Despite the childlike voices of her narrators, her piercing original view of family life and peculiar, often surreal, humour allied her work with that of Ivy Compton-Burnett.

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