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Sir V. S. Pritchett (Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett) Biography

(1900–1997), (Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett), Christian Science Monitor, Marching Spain, The Spanish Temper, Clare Drummer


British novelist, critic, and short-story writer. Born in Ipswich, son of a travelling salesman with religious ambitions, Pritchett was educated at Alleyn's School, Dulwich, which he left at 15 to work in the leather trade. His early immersion in the heterogeneous life of the city has proved perhaps his greatest asset as a writer, his powers of observation being greatly developed also by persistent travel in early manhood. At 21 he went to Paris, then embarked on his long career as a journalist. He wrote for the Christian Science Monitor in Ireland and in Spain, and this paper published his first extended pieces, the essay sequence ‘The Appalachian Mountains’, based on his walks in America. Pritchett's first full-length book was another travelogue, Marching Spain (1928); it has had several distinguished successors, including The Spanish Temper (1954). Clare Drummer (1929) was the first of several novels whose number includes Dead Man Leading (1949), centring on an explorer with obvious affinities to T. E. Lawrence, and Mr Beluncle (1959) which, in its portrait of a restless, overweening father with a mania for embracing religious sects, drew on personal memories. Pritchett's greatest achievement lies in the short story, to which form he has made one of the most considerable contributions of the twentieth century. Stories range from portraits of (often quirky) individuals such as ‘The Saint’ to poetic renderings of epiphanic episodes (e.g. the famous ‘Many Are Disappointed’), from the humorously anecdotal such as ‘Sense of Humour’ to complex presentations of inter-relationships within a group, of which ‘When My Girl Comes Home’, one of his greatest productions, can stand as example. Collections include The Spanish Virgin and Other Stories (1930), You Make Your Own Life (1938), When My Girl Comes Home (1961), and The Camberwell Beauty (1974). Two volumes of Collected Stories appeared in 1982 and 1983, and an even larger edition to commemorate his ninetieth birthday in September 1990. He has also wrote two books of autobiography, The Cab at the Door (1968), dominated by its portrait of his parents, and Midnight Oil (1971). In his later years Pritchett continued to refine his art. His collection A Careless Widow (1989) contains the story ‘Cocky Olly’ (the title is the name of a children's game), a remarkable portrait of two children in post-Second World War Britain and their confused understanding of the adult society around them. At Home and Abroad (1990) is a collection of travel pieces. Pritchett's reputation as a critic rests chiefly on the exemplary clarity and precision of his literary essays, which are collected in The Myth Makers (1979), The Tale Bearers (1980), and Man of Letters (1986); The Complete Essays appeared in 1991. His highly regarded critical and biographical monographs include Balzac (1974), The Gentle Barbarian: the Life and Work of Turgenev (1977), and Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free (1988).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog to Rabbit Tetralogy