Authors: V. S. Pritchett

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English short-story writer

Author Works

Short Fiction:

The Spanish Virgin, and Other Stories, 1930

You Make Your Own Life, and Other Stories, 1938

It May Never Happen, and Other Stories, 1945

Collected Stories, 1956

The Sailor, the Sense of Humour, and Other Stories, 1956 (also known as The Saint, and Other Stories, 1966)

When My Girl Comes Home, 1961

The Key to My Heart, 1963

Blind Love, and Other Stories, 1969

The Camber-well Beauty, and Other Stories, 1974

Selected Stories, 1978

The Fly in the Ointment, 1978

On the Edge of the Cliff, 1979

Collected Stories, 1982

More Collected Stories, 1983

A Careless Widow, and Other Stories, 1989

Complete Collected Stories, 1990

Long Fiction:

Claire Drummer, 1929

Shirley Sanz, 1932 (also known as Elopement into Exile)

Nothing Like Leather, 1935

Dead Man Leading, 1937

Mr. Beluncle, 1951


Marching Spain, 1928

In My Good Books, 1942

The Living Novel and Later Appreciations, 1946

Why Do I Write? An Exchange of Views Between Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, and V. S. Pritchett, 1948

Books in General, 1953

The Spanish Temper, 1954

London Perceived, 1962

The Offensive Traveller, 1964 (also known as Foreign Faces)

New York Proclaimed, 1965

The Working Novelist, 1965

Shakespeare: The Comprehensive Soul, 1965

Dublin: A Portrait, 1967

A Cab at the Door, 1968

George Meredith and English Comedy, 1970

Midnight Oil, 1972

Balzac: A Biography, 1973

The Gentle Barbarian: The Life and Work of Turgenev, 1977

The Myth Makers: Literary Essays, 1979

The Tale Bearers: Literary Essays, 1980

The Other Side of the Frontier: A V. S. Pritchett Reader, 1984

A Man of Letters, 1985

Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free, 1988

Lasting Impressions, 1990

The Complete Essays, 1991

Balzac, 1992


The Pritchett Century, 1997


Victor Sawden Pritchett (PRIHCH-iht) was a master of the short story. He was born near London of lower-middle-class parents. Owing to his father’s lack of business sense, the family moved constantly from house to house, from one set of relatives to another. The father, who usually worked as a traveling salesman, dominated his undernourished wife and children, and his conversion to Christian Science caused frequent family quarrels. At school, Pritchett was a mediocre student except in shorthand, French, and German. His hopes of attending a university were shattered when, just before his sixteenth birthday, he was abruptly taken out of school and made an apprentice in the leather trade. His long-smoldering ambition to become a writer led him to abandon his job and move to France in 1921.{$I[AN]9810000943}{$I[A]Pritchett, V. S.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Pritchett, V. S.}{$I[tim]1900;Pritchett, V. S.}

V. S. Pritchett

(Nancy Crampton)

In Paris Pritchett lived meagerly and mingled with modest working people. In his leisure he walked indefatigably, read voraciously, and tried to write. Eventually he had some articles accepted by The Christian Science Monitor, which could not pay him because of its financial troubles in Boston. After nearly starving to death, Pritchett returned to England. The newspaper’s London editor promptly sent him to Ireland to write a series of articles on the civil war. Since he knew nothing about politics, he indulged his passions for the countryside, the theater, and Irish poets. As a correspondent, he was later sent to North Africa and the United States.

After being dismissed by The Christian Science Monitor and returning to London in the late 1920’s, Pritchett resolved to walk across Spain. The resulting book, Marching Spain, although not a great success, marked Pritchett’s transition from journalist to freelance writer. He supported himself by writing book reviews and travel sketches, but his real interest was in fiction. Between 1930 and 1940, he published thirty-six short stories. This work represents some of his best writing. He claimed that the improvement was the result of his second marriage. (His earlier marriage to an Irish woman had been the cause of much unhappiness.)

During his three years at American universities (1962, 1966, and 1968), Pritchett had the leisure to compose his two autobiographies, both of which are regarded as classics. By 1970, he was an admired man of letters and had received many awards, culminating in his 1975 knighthood for his contributions to British letters. Although long past the normal age for retirement, Pritchett continued to write.

Of this lifetime of writing it is generally agreed that, apart from the autobiographies, Pritchett’s short stories represent his most enduring claim to fame. In his many volumes of short fiction, written over five decades, certain characteristics remain constant. Generally, the focus is on character rather than on plot. The reader senses that Pritchett sympathizes with the sad, lonely, frustrated people he depicts, no matter how ridiculously they may behave. If they are eccentric, that is proof, according to Pritchett, that they are true to life. The action in each story serves only to explain the characters; it involves the interaction of individuals. Painstaking craftsmanship is evident in each story, and the setting is evoked magically, with great economy. Pritchett does not explain what his characters are feeling. Instead they reveal their emotions in dialogue.

Pritchett’s writing has attracted more admiration than it has critical study, possibly because he offers readers few interpretive hints. Pritchett never entirely divests characters of their dignity; a critic, therefore, finds it difficult to pronounce judgment on them. Furthermore, Pritchett’s work is difficult to categorize because it features an astounding variety of characters. They are drawn from the middle and the working classes, ranging in age from childhood to the elderly. They are male and female, usually but not always British, and they populate at least six different decades. Although the rich literary and cultural material that Pritchett produced has only begun to be mined, his autobiographies, his literary criticism, his travel books, and above all his short stories secured for him a permanent place in English literature.

BibliographyAngell, 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 Pritchett’s writings divided into genres and biographical and critical sources, especially those articles that appeared in newspapers, magazines, and literary journals. Geared for the general reader, with the variety of quotes appealing to a specialist.Oumhani, Cecile. “Water in V. S. Pritchett’s Art of Revealing.” Journal of the Short Story in English 6 (1986): 75-91. Oumhani probes the immersion motif in the pattern of water imagery in Pritchett’s short stories, especially in “On the Edge of a Cliff,” “The Diver,” “The Saint,” and “Handsome Is as Handsome Does.” Oumhani believes that Pritchett’s views about sensuality can be intuited from the stories she analyzes. The article will appeal to the introductory reader of Freud.Pritchett, V. S. “An Interview with V. S. Pritchett.” Interview by Ben Forkner and Philippe Sejourne. Journal of the Short Story in English 6 (1986): 11-38. Pritchett in this interview reveals a number of salient details about writing in general and the influences of people like H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett. He talks at length about the Irish predilection for storytelling and the Irish ideas about morality and the art of concealment. Pritchett reveals his penchant for the ironic and pays homage to Anton Chekhov, one of his models. He believes that the comic is really a facet of the poetic. The interview is written in a question-answer style and is a straightforward record of Pritchett’s views.Stinson, John J. V. S. Pritchett: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1992. An introduction to Pritchett’s short fiction. Suggests that Pritchett’s stories have been largely ignored by critics because they do not have the symbolic image pattern favored by formalist critics. Provides interpretations of a number of Pritchett’s stories. Includes Pritchett’s own comments on writers who have influenced him, as well as essays on his short fiction by Eudora Welty and William Trevor.Theroux, Paul. “V. S. Pritchett.” The New York Times Book Review 102 (May 25, 1997): 27. A biographical tribute, claiming that Pritchett was probably the last man who could be called a man of letters; notes that Pritchett worked slowly and with confidence.Treglown, Jeremy. V. S. Pritchett: A Working Life. New York: Random House, 2004. An admiring and engaging biography of Pritchett that examines both the breadth of Pritchett’s literary production and the highs and lows of his personal life.
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