A Cab at the Door is interesting as an account of the boyhood of a man who has gone on to do solid and admired work as a journalist, short-story writer, novelist, and critic—solid enough to earn for him a knighthood, membership in the Order of the British Empire, and several honorary degrees. What makes this volume most interesting is that, even though V. S. Pritchett had a passable education by the standards of his day and class, he is essentially an autodidact. The reader learns which authors he cut his teeth on: William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, as well as the writers of adventure and schoolboy stories in popular magazines. The young Pritchett took naturally to languages, not Latin but French and German. Most interesting of all is the way Pritchett reacted to his tumultuous family life: He decided at a relatively young age that he had to break with his family and go it alone. Although an author needs experience, Pritchett implies that he needed detachment most of all.
The book is also interesting as a somewhat unconventional picture of English life in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. The usual contrast between north and south in English narratives is that of northern industrial cities with southern upper-class elegance and gentility. For Pritchett, in contrast, the north was small towns and the strictness of dissenting religion; the south was the grubby, dangerous streets and the third-class schools and...
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