Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 739
Because The Complete Collected Stories numbers eighty-two pieces of short fiction, detailed discussion of each one may exceed the time and energy that any group wishes to devote to such an exercise. However, with short fiction, certain general areas can be traversed that will allow for discussion of larger issues: character, plot, setting, theme, language, style, character interaction, or even of the genre itself as Pritchett practiced it. One might begin, simply, with Valentine Cunningham's declaration ([London] Times Literary Supplement 23 November 1990: 1255) that Pritchett "is without exaggeration the best modern British short-story writer, as the eighty-two stories of his massive [ninetieth] birthday-celebrating Complete Stories may reveal." Exactly why those stories have endured both time and critical assault becomes the first essential question.
1. Why is the short story the ideal medium for Pritchett? In other words, how can he, and why does he, confine what he wants to convey to his reader to a form that may (as opposed to the novel) limit the writer in terms of length, breadth, or depth?
2. How does Pritchett's language — the actual words spoken by characters, for instance — assist in the delineation and development of a particular character? How can the reader best understand a Pritchett character — from the writer's description? From the character's own words? From what other characters may say about him or her? from combinations of all of those?
3. In focusing primarily upon lower-class Britons, does Pritchett restrict his readers' view of society as a whole? Does he ever hold forth any hope, either through his characters or his themes, that social classes can, on occasion, bridge their distinctions and differences for the betterment of the entire nation?
4. There are those among Pritchett's critical observers who believe that the key to his art as a writer lies in his appreciation of the erotic. Does the erotic, or sex, have unusual (or even abnormal) roles or functions in his short fiction? Is the erotic, or sex, so important to his art that it subordinates social or psychological themes?
5. Pritchett claims to hold no malice toward any of his fictional characters. However, does he demonstrate favoritism toward some as opposed to others? If so, how would one interpret such favoritism and its effects upon theme and plot? In characters' conflicts and interrelationships, are there clearly defined winners and losers?
6. What are the relationships, in Pritchett's short stories, among irony, eccentricity, and hypocrisy? Does any one (or, perhaps, all three?) of them ever disrupt the neatness of characters' lives?
7. The term "Puritanism" often finds its way into the critical commentary relative to Pritchett's fiction. In the short stories, does he offer a definition of Puritanism, either through his characters or his themes? When, in the fiction, does Puritanism create conflict? When does it achieve harmony or resolution?
8. In explicating his appreciation for Irish short fiction, Pritchett warned of a danger "that I should think of the Irish, as one often does, as just being funny because they say funny things. One had to grow out of that sort of thing and get at the real essence of what they [the Irish writers] were trying to say" (interview with Douglass A. Hughes, 1976). How, in his own work, does Pritchett attempt to transcend his comic characters — or rise above the comedy associated with "serious" characters and "get at the real essence" of what he wants to say? Does he succeed? Where and how?
9. American readers generally agree that Pritchett's short fiction has a predominantly British quality? Does it? Does that quality restrict the appeal of his stories? Why or why not?
10. "Many Are Disappointed," as but one example, arose from Pritchett's own experience. "Blind Love/' as another example, came from totally outside of his own experience. Can the reader easily identify the distinctions? In other words, does Pritchett write better or differently inside of his experience as opposed to outside of it? Insofar as concerns his short stories generally, is there an issue here?
11. Does Pritchett ever emphasize character at the expense of events or situations? In other words, what appears more important to Pritchett — his characters, or what they do and the situations in which they act? Do Pritchett's characters ever obscure other elements of the story (theme, plot, action, setting)?
12. Are there elements of the drama (including melodrama) in Pritchett's short stories? Do those elements manifest themselves in the characters or in their situations? Do those elements manipulate either the reader or a character?
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