V. S. Pritchett Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

V. S. Pritchett’s sixty-year career as a writer, apart from his many short stories, produced several novels (not well received), two autobiographies (A Cab at the Door, 1968, and Midnight Oil, 1972), several travel books (the noteworthy ones including The Spanish Temper, 1954, and The Offensive Traveller, 1964), volumes of literary criticism, literary biographies (George Meredith and English Comedy, 1970; Balzac, 1973; The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev, 1977), essays (among them New York Proclaimed, 1965, and The Working Novelist, 1965), and journalistic pieces from France, Spain, Ireland, and the United States that remain in the literary canon, so well are they written.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In his long and distinguished career, V. S. Pritchett, who prefers the abbreviation V. S. P., produced an impressive number of books in all genres—from novels and short stories, on which rests his fame, to literary criticism, travel books, and journalistic pieces written for The Christian Science Monitor when he covered Ireland, Spain, and France. His most successful genre was the short story, which resulted from his razor-sharp characterizations of all classes, both in England and on the Continent, his focus on the moment of epiphany, his graceful writing, and his ironic, bittersweet wit. Pritchett has the uncanny ability to select a commonplace moment and through imagery, wit, and irony lift it to a transfiguration. He focuses on the foibles of all people without malice, anger, or sentimentality but rather with humor, gentleness, and understanding. In his preface to Collected Stories, Pritchett states that although some people believe that the short story has lost some of its popularity, he does not think so: “[T]his is not my experience; thousands of addicts still delight in it because it is above all memorable and is not simply read, but re-read again and again. It is the glancing form of fiction that seems to be right for the nervousness and restlessness of contemporary life.”

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

V. S. Pritchett (PRIHCH-iht) is recognized above all as a master of the short story. His stories rely less on plot than on character—character revealed principally through dialogue. Many of Pritchett’s stories were first published in magazines; they have been collected, however, in more than a dozen volumes.

Pritchett is also widely known as a travel writer and a literary critic and biographer. As the former, he produced several works, among which The Spanish Temper (1954) was perhaps most highly praised. The Offensive Traveller (1964; also known as Foreign Faces) is a collection of numerous previously published travel essays. Pritchett’s literary biographies include Balzac: A Biography (1973), The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev (1977), and Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free (1988). His criticism ranges across more than four decades, from In My Good Books (1942) to A Man of Letters (1985). Two autobiographical works by Pritchett, A Cab at the Door (1968) and Midnight Oil (1972) are regarded as classics of the genre.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

During the second half of the twentieth century, V. S. Pritchett’s readership and influence in the United States grew considerably. After the 1950’s, his stories appeared frequently in The New Yorker, and selections of his reviews appeared yearly in The New York Review of Books. He was the Christian Gauss Lecturer at Princeton University (1953), writer-in-residence at Smith College (1966), Beckman Professor at the University of California at Berkeley (1962), and visiting professor at Brandeis University (1968). His fiction and criticism alike were enjoyed and praised by American critics—his fiction for its social comedy, acute characterization, and subtle manner, his criticism for its focus, lucidity, and balance. As a “literary journalist,” he has been compared to Edmund Wilson, and his sentences, whether in fiction or nonfiction, are thought to be among the best written in English in the twentieth century. In England, he was an elder statesman of letters, many times honored. He was the Clark Lecturer at Cambridge University (1969) and was awarded a D.Litt. by Leeds University (1972). He served as president of the British Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN) in 1970 and of the International PEN Club in 1974. He was the recipient of two awards for nonfiction, the Heinemann in 1969 and the International PEN Club in 1974. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1969, he was made a Commander of the British Empire, and in 1975, he was knighted.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Since V. S. Pritchett is skilled at depicting relationships, an important element in the novel, what limitations in his long fiction keep it from being as effective as his short stories?

What does Pritchett’s “When My Girl Comes Home” reveal about the effects of a war upon civilians?

What are the implications of Pritchett’s use of a title seemingly based on a cliché, “Blind Love”?

Is Pritchett condemning the collecting of antiques or any particular aspect of collecting in “The Camberwell Beauty”?

Cite several instances of Pritchett conveying a sense of dignity in characters whom he has introduced comically.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Angell, Roger. “Marching Life.” The New Yorker 73 (December 22-29, 1997): 126-134. In this biographical sketch, Angell contends that although Pritchett was called First Man of Letters, the title never fit properly because he was neither literary nor a stylist, and he liked to say he was a hack long before he was a critic.

Baldwin, Dean. V. S. Pritchett. Boston: Twayne, 1987. This slim book of 133 pages contains a superb short biography of Pritchett, followed by a clear-cut analysis of his novels, short stories, and nonfiction. One caution is to be noted: Baldwin says there is no article analyzing any of Pritchett’s short stories, yet the Journal of the Short Story in English, an excellent journal published in Angers, France, devoted an entire volume as a special Pritchett issue. It may be that Baldwin’s book was already in the process of publication when the journal issue was completed.

Johnson, Anne Janette. “V(ictor) S(awdon) Pritchett.” In Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, edited by James G. Lesniak. Vol. 31. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990. This article includes general material on Pritchett’s life and work, with a wide range of critical comments by magazines and literary journals such as The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times, and The New Republic. Contains a listing of...

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