V. S. Pritchett

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Introduction

(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, Vols. 5, 13, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 61-64.)

A. S. Byatt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Sir Victor has, throughout his long career as a reviewer and critic, been able to find and describe accurately what he calls, in The Living Novel, 'the new point in life from which any given novel started.' He likes to take the great, the outstanding, the enduring book and isolate the qualities that make it so. If biography helps, he tells us what we need to know; if political or cultural history is more useful, we have that; if perfectly chosen examples of style and pace are required, he provides them. He is supremely tactful, and never superfluous.

The Myth Makers contains essays on European, Russian and South American novelists: the title comes from the essay on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose quality as a myth maker is succinctly defined as a capacity to depict

the inordinate character—not necessarily a giant or saga-like hero, but someone who has exercised a right to extreme conduct or aberration. Such people fulfil a new country's need for legends. A human being is required to be a myth, his spiritual value lies in the inflating of his tale.

Pritchett's descriptions of Marquez's 'inordinate' tales The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World, One Hundred Years of Solitude and the recent comic and terrible Autumn of the Patriarch, show how farce, brilliant description, excess and wisdom go to create a sense of the whole life of an undefined culture and world….

Two topics which seem to me to recur in Sir Victor's essays are his novelists' capacity to organise and describe facts and things on the one hand, and their interest in what he calls, speaking of Stendhal, the 'self-invention' of the characters (and indeed of the authors). In some of the earlier novels he treats, exactness and self-invention go easily together….

His later myth makers, except maybe Marquez, have a very ambivalent relation with the Ideal. They celebrate bittiness, eccentricity, and privacy as an escape from Ideals they don't care for: Dostoievsky's outworn Christian Russia, the Marxist State and other orthodoxies. Sir Victor made me admire Dr. Zhivago more than I had ever been able to do—partly by exhibiting that (as I suspected) I had read a purple and lurid translation—but partly by demonstrating that the novel was a myth of the survival of the incomplete gesture, the private. Pasternak 'conveys that cataclysms observably remove meaning from people's lives without leaving them futile.'…

As everywhere throughout The Myth Makers, Sir Victor has been decorously concerned to preserve a discourse which avoids the jargon (and habit of mind) of critical systems—structuralist, formalist, Marxist, psychoanalytic. He does not preach, but the message is clear. And he ends by claiming Borges as a myth maker of his kind, in company with Chekhov and Flaubert, and with a warning: 'The risk is—and there are some signs of this already—that criticism of Borges will become an accretion that will force us to see his stories as conceits alone.' Because this is indeed so, we need critics like Sir Victor.

A. S. Byatt, "The Greedy Reader," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 97, No. 2513, May 18, 1979, p. 724.

John Gross

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

V. S. Pritchett is not much given to quarreling with other critics, but at one point in his new collection of essays ["The Myth Makers"] he does allow himself to rebuke a professor who has been going in for some particularly jaw-breaking jargon, subjecting Flaubert to a barrage of "velleities" and "volitations." Literary criticism, he insists, "does not add to its...

(The entire section is 3,740 words.)