V. S. Pritchett

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Pritchett, V(ictor) S(awden) 1900–

Pritchett is a British novelist, short story writer, literary critic, travel writer, autobiographer, and man of letters. In his beautifully written prose, Pritchett exhibits a Dickensian eye for detail and a fine sense of humor. Walter Allen, noting Pritchett's "unerring instinct for idiosyncrasy that reveals character," calls him "the complete master" of the short story form. (See also CLC, Vol. 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64.)

Walter Sullivan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[V. S. Pritchett] … has been writing good short stories for many years. He is … no longer at the top of his form, but the leading story in The Camberwell Beauty is quite equal to work he did in his prime. One of Pritchett's great advantages as a writer—and one which is becoming rarer as our cultures become more fragmented—is his ability to create a variety of backgrounds: he is not tied, as so many writers are, to a single and usually restricted world. "The Camberwell Beauty" takes place among antique dealers, the best imaginable milieu for the development of its Jamesian theme. Pritchett convinces us that dealers are collectors before they are businessmen: each has his specialty, porcelain or silver or rare miniatures: buying and selling furniture is simply a means toward an avaricious end. The Camberwell Beauty is a girl, loved by a young man who wishes to marry her, but she is collected as an object, first by a disreputable dealer named August and later by the richer and more respectable Pliny, who never touches her sexually though she becomes his wife.

To put the story in such blunt terms is to rob it of its beauty but at the same time to demonstrate the dependence of the characters and the plot on the skill with which Pritchett makes his enclave of collectors come to life. Other stories in the volume have equally convincing backgrounds, but there is never quite the same perfect marriage of setting to myth. (pp. 540-41)

Walter Sullivan, in Sewanee Review (reprinted by permission of the editor; © 1975 by The University of the South), Summer, 1975.

B. L. Reid

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

V. S. Pritchett's first volume [of reminiscences] A Cab at the Door, takes its title from the family's habit of moving lodgings after each new failed enterprise: "A cabby and his horse would be coughing together outside the house and the next thing we knew we were driving to an underground station and to a new house in a new part of London, to the smell of new paint, new mice dirts, new cupboards." (p. 263)

The rootlessness of the Pritchetts' London life, coupled with a native hostility to rote learning, made a shambles of Victor's formal education. (p. 265)

When he is not yet sixteen the lad is abruptly removed from school and sent to work as an office boy in "the leather trade" at a large factor's in Bermondsey. Here he remained for four years. It is characteristic of Pritchett's sane realism not to treat the long interval as a waste nor to recall it with condescension or self-pity. (p. 266)

Pritchett is very frank and funny about adolescent sexuality, which torments him unbearably throughout these years. (p. 267)

It is a long serious illness in the postwar influenza epidemic that finally separates him from the leather trade and frees him to leave England and his family. His fortune consists of twenty pounds—enough, his father estimates, to keep him in Paris for a month…. On the train to Paris he tastes wine for the first time and finds it vinegary; but he is "committed" to liking it. The little transitional experiences are to be taken as premonitory.

So ends A Cab at the Door , about which one's feelings have been locally powerful but confused in sum, suspended. It is an effect, one supposes, of Pritchett's own feelings about the quality of his life in childhood and youth. The dominant impression is that of a hectic busyness, humming, hivelike, without clear direction or clear lines of emphasis: evidently the life was like that. The book like the boy is dominated by the family, and the family is dominated by the...

(The entire section is 4,562 words.)