Complete Collected Stories
V.S. Pritchett’s publishers in England and America should be congratulated for their persistent support of this talented but often-neglected writer. This is the third omnibus volume of Pritchett’s stories to appear since 1982, and it is by far the most comprehensive. Apart from the stories in Pritchett’s first collection, THE SPANISH VIRGIN AND OTHER STORIES (1930), COMPLETE COLLECTED STORIES reprints all of Pritchett’s previously collected stories. Pritchett’s refusal to acknowledge his earliest volume is rather too bad, since he thereby deprives readers of easy access to the experiments, false starts, and successes of his youth. Nevertheless, this is a rich harvest of wonderful stories, showing the development of a writer who, as he is fond of saying, is “as old as the century.”
Those already familiar with the riches of Pritchett’s imagination will rejoice to find between two covers the well-known stories on which his reputation with discriminating readers rests—"Sense of Humour,” “The Sailor,” “The Saint,” “The Fly in the Ointment,” “The Camberwell Beauty,” and “On the Edge of the Cliff.” Such readers will equally relish the chance to savor further delights, from the gritty realism of “Main Road” to the suspense of “The Voice,” to the almost slapstick humor of “The Key to My Heart,” or the intensity of “The Lady from Guatemala.” Pritchett is a master of many moods and many kinds of short story, and as this volume ably demonstrates, he never settles into a formula. Readers who have not yet discovered the joys of Pritchett’s succinct, individual style, quirky characters, insight in to the recesses of the modern soul, and his wry sense of humor are in for a rare treat.
To highlight specific stories, however, does a certain injustice to a writer, as a “greatest hits” album does to a musician. This is a volume that should be read in its entirety by anyone who wants to understand how the British have been coping for the past sixty years. The major time periods are marked: the economic depression of the 1920’s and the 1930’s, the moral confusion after World War II, the sexual revolution, the gray years of English socialism. But Pritchett is not a “social” writer; his concern is with the individuals who must somehow adapt to change, preserve their dignity, save face, get along. His characters come from the lower-middle classes, where striving is a way of life and humiliation never far away. Pritchett gives voice to the voiceless, and what we hear is the insistent growl of sexuality, the artificial purr of surface respectability, and the sincere cry of the heart for love and affection. These are stories for those who love the language, the short story, and the irrepressible dignity of the human race.
Sources for Further Study
Chicago Tribune. March 24, 1991, XIV, p. 1.
Library Journal. CXVI, April 1, 1991, p. 155.
London Review of Books. XII, December 20, 1990, p. 17.
The New Republic. CCIV, May 27, 1991, p. 38.
New Statesman and Society. III, November 23, 1990, p. 38.
The New York Review of Books. XXXVIII, June 13, 1991, p. 8.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVI, March 24, 1991, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXVIII, February 22, 1991, p. 208.
The Times Literary Supplement. November 23, 1990, p. 1255.
The Washington Post Book World. XXI, April 7, 1991, p. 5.