Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mr. Beluncle is Pritchett’s fifth and last novel; after its publication in 1951, he returned to what were probably his first loves and stronger vehicles for his literary talents: short stories and literary criticism. He also wrote a second volume of his autobiography, Midnight Oil (1971), which together with his first, A Cab at the Door, is of great interest to readers of his fiction. (They are the best novels, one critic observed.) Like his good friend and contemporary, George Orwell, he draws heavily on people he has known to populate his fiction. Unlike Orwell, he has written short stories in abundance, excellent ones on which his future reputation may rest. A recognition of his achievement in this field was his selection as the editor of the Oxford Book of Short Stories (1981).

Mr. Beluncle is often regarded as the author’s most important novel, although the earlier Dead Man Leading (1937) is viewed by some as a better one, certainly a better plotted one. It may be demanding too much of the novel, however, to ask for elaborate structure; its primary value lies in its reflection of the rather chaotic youth of the author, full of unresolvable dilemmas and apparent dead ends, and its high comedy acted by memorable clowns.