Complete Collected Stories of V. S. Pritchett

by V. S. Pritchett
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Themes

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Love and sex stand as major Pritchett themes, principally because they encourage him to focus upon human involvements that by their very nature arise from and relate to social and psychological conflicts. In "The Diver" (from The Camberwell Beauty and Other Stories, 1974, and first published as in the New Yorker as "The Fall" ), a young Englishman undergoes an initiation into love. Mocked by a middle-aged French woman lying naked on her bed, he lies in response to her question, "You have never seen a woman before?" A sexual block has hindered his powers as a man and as a writer. However, as he stands there, naked and frightened, his brain begins to fashion a story; he becomes a writer again. As Eudora Welty pointed out, "The Diver" allows us to understand that "in times of necessity or crisis, a conspiracy may form among the deep desires of our lives to substitute for one another, to masquerade sometimes as one another, to support, to save one another."

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For instance, in "Blind Love" (from Blind Love and Other Stories, 1969), two persons suffering from permanent damage and blemish achieve a perverted state of love. The blind Mr. Armitage hires Mrs. Johnson, possessor of an extensive and horrifying birthmark that she views as the worst of all possible human insults. As a newly-wed, she had been forced from her husband's house after the latter recoiled in horror from seeing the birth-mark accusing her of deceiving him. Thus her affair with Armitage represents the unification of blindness and deception. Again, in "The Marvelous Girl" (from The Camberwell Beauty and Other Stories), blindness in the form of "love in the dark" appears to underscore the theme of failed love. Francis, the husband sits in the back of the audience, in the dark, but can see his wife seated on a stage, basking in the light of public view. He represents a spectator of his failed marriage. Suddenly, the auditorium lights fail; one can only feel and hear. In the darkness, the man accidentally bumps into his wife, the few seconds of their recognizable touch being the brief period of their marriage. The tights come on again and Francis leaves the auditorium with a young secretary, his wife's coworker and "the marvelous girl" whom he has been pursuing. From the lighted building, they enter the darkness of the city. No matter what the object or point of view, love, for Francis, wallows in total darkness.

Finally, in "When My Girl Comes Home," the exceptionally long short story that forms the title of Pritchett's 1961 collection, the writer skillfully but subtly weaves his theme of love into an exceedingly tense explication of working-class life and manners in south London. Through the eyes and thoughts of a young borough librarian, Harry Fraser, we observe the dismay and bewilderment in the Johnson family when, after thirteen years in a Japanese prison camp, Hilda Johnson returns from the war. Instead of having suffered from that imprisonment, she managed rather well for herself, principally because of her marriage to a Japanese soldier. The late war remains a powerful influence upon these inhabitants of Hincham Street; it imprisoned them, made them insensitive to everything else, changed them. Thus, they have difficulty understanding Hilda Johnson, just as she cannot focus clearly her vision of them. "Hilda had been our dream/' laments Harry Fraser, "but now she was home she changed as fast as dreams change. She was now, as we looked at her, far more remote to us than she had been all the years when she was away." From an obvious point of view, this lengthy story exists as an exercise in contrasting reality to illusion.

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Characters