Memorable characters, major and minor, are what Mr. Beluncle is about. To a breathtaking degree, the novel is autobiographical, as is obvious to a reader of A Cab at the Door (1968), V. S. Pritchett’s account of his formative years. Ethel and Philip Beluncle are only slightly altered versions of the author’s parents; Henry is clearly recognizable as the young Pritchett; Linda Truslove is a plainer version of Miss H. of the autobiography; and the Purification Church “theology” is the satirist’s version of his real father’s Christian Science. The fictional mother and the real-life one even use the same old saw: “I know the difference between a sixpence and a shilling.” At the close of both books, Henry/Pritchett goes to France. After a few months have passed, a reader of both books cannot separate the Beluncles from the Pritchetts without difficulty.
Mr. Beluncle himself is self-absorbed, self-indulgent, autocratic, optimistic to the point of madness, and the appropriator of other people’s money, yet this flamboyant man inspires love: His wife will defend him against all comers; tears of thwarted love roll down his son George’s cheek; Linda Truslove has loved him for years. In the Purification Church, he finds the cloudy abstractions that gave him scope: “It looks to me,” observes Ethel, “that Divine Love means someone puts up the money.”
Ethel is the perfect foil to her husband: “The more Beluncle dressed, the less she dressed: their marriage had always been a duel.... The more he sat, the more she stood. The more he was the lord, the more she, vindictively, was the slave.” When she “wished to be outrageous she...
(The entire section is 690 words.)