V.S. Pritchett (1900–1997) was a British essayist, novelist and short story writer. He worked as a foreign correspondent for the The Christian Science Monitorand as a literary critic forNew Statesman. In 1968 Pritchett was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire; he was knighted in 1975. His body of work includes many collections of short stories, in addition to travelogues, reviews, literary biographies and novels.

Mocking the Immemorial

“Exhaustive accounts” of his period, Max Beerbohm once wrote, “would need far less brilliant pens than mine.” Elect among British parodists and cartoonists, he was both writer and painter, as insinuating in his prose as with his playful brush. He seems also to have decided to be an adult enigma …

The Magician’s Trick

When Vladimir Nabokov was questioned in America about the impulse that had led him to write his sensational novel Lolita, he half-evaded the question. He said he had felt an early “throb” of interest in the subject of nymphets when he was a refugee in Paris in 1939 and was …

On the Verge

We now have the third volume of Joseph Frank’s exhaustive and responsive examination of Dostoevsky and his works. We see Dostoevsky returning to St. Petersburg after his infamous imprisonment with common criminals in Siberia, which had been prolonged by enforced military service there, and lasted a total of ten years.

The Look that Freezes

How lucky the novelists were in the puff their illustrators gave them in the Victorian age! They doubled and gave visual life to characters and scenes. Lucky also in the proliferation of magazines and the work of the graphic cartoonists and satirists. The age of print was the age of …

His Angry Way

A novelist has his winners in the stable, but what happens to those that go lame and never finish the course? There is the semi-mystery of a short novel, Mr Noon, which D.H. Lawrence began in 1920 following The Lost Girl, The White Peacock, The Rainbow, and Sons and Lovers: …

‘A Roaring Positive Fellow’

In the portraits done in middle life, Anthony Trollope is a threatening figure. The bald head gleams, the eyes behind the small steel spectacles glare, the nose is ready to snort, the rough beard looks like a bunch of thistles: the ungainly man in the frock coat and loud trousers …

The Solace of Intrigue

By the Twenties the Anglo-Irish gentry—the “Ascendancy” as they were called—rapidly became a remnant. After the treaty, some stormed out shouting at the receding Wicklow Hills. Those who stayed on resorted to irony; for centuries they had been a caste in decline on a poor island-within-an-island in Britain’s oldest colony.

Surviving in the Ruins

In person Cyril Connolly was a gift to the rueful moralists and extravagant gossips of every kind in his generation, but above all to himself. He was an egoist and actor with many parts and impersonations. I often thought of him in middle age as a phenomenal baby in a …

Dostoevsky and His Double

The second volume of Joseph Frank’s very searching biography of Dostoevsky has now appeared. Two more will follow. Its overwhelming merit is that it does not stop at the personal life and character of an extraordinary man but concentrates on the novelist reacting to the literary and the fluctuating influences …

The Humming Poet

The superb eleven-volume edition of The Diary of Samuel Pepys, transcribed and edited by Robert Latham and William Matthews, is now completed by two volumes: the promised Companion and an Index. The Companion fills exhaustively the London background to the diary; it describes the streets and official buildings of the …

Proustifications

As a young letter writer Proust is already talking himself into what would eventually become autobiography as a continuing art. There will be no stopping the rush. He is about seventeen, still at the Lycée Condorcet— Forgive my handwriting, my style, my spelling. I don’t dare re-read myself. When I …

The Supreme Fairy Tale

When a novelist takes to a bout of lecturing to university students he knows that for him it is sin to live by his mouth. He is throwing away his syntax and his prose; the charms of the impromptu will not work unless he has first gone through the drudgery …

Make It Strange

After the excellent book on his travels, In Patagonia, it is at first surprising to find Bruce Chatwin writing a novel about the small sheep farmers at home on the hills of the Welsh Border country of England. Sheep farming is, of course, the common link. In the nineteenth century …

Private Lives

From despotisms like the Soviet Union the only voices that tell one anything are the voices of private life. These distinguish the sporadic correspondence of Olga Freidenberg with her first cousin Boris Pasternak between 1910 and 1954. She was in Leningrad, he mostly in Moscow. Forty-five years of this harassed …

The Logic of Franz Kafka

After his critical biography of Nietzsche, Ronald Hayman has turned to Kafka; from the prophetic self-enlarging Superman to one who assuaged his sense of estrangement from his family and society by diminishing himself. There was an air of humility in this, but there was pride in an evasiveness: or, if …

Appalachian Spring

It was a good winter in Tennessee. Earlier this year I was in Nashville, a city surrounded by ring after ring of droll little wooded hills, and I was teaching among the magnolias and mockingbirds of Vanderbilt University and counting the church towers and steeples of the Bible Belt. There …

Never-Never-Land

Among the writers who are celebrating the centenary of the birth of P.G. Wodehouse this year, Benny Green seems to me the most spirited and cogent to have appeared so far. He calls his book “a literary biography,” which is exactly what is called for in dealing with a surprisingly …

Demon Lover

Gregor von Rezzori is a multilingual Rumanian novelist brought up in Bukovina and Bucharest after the liberation from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, educated in Vienna, and writing in German. In Germany his startling powers are admired, but he is almost unknown in the English-speaking world because of the difficulties …

The Poet-Logician

The exhibition which celebrates the 150th anniversary of Pissarro’s birth has now traveled from London to Paris and is soon to arrive in Boston, and three stout, handsomely illustrated and scholarly volumes are here to inform a layman like myself. They also test and enlarge our response to a restless …

Semi-Heroes

Among men of learning in history and philosophy Isaiah Berlin is probably the most captivating expositor of ideas in the English-speaking world. The subject of Personal Impressions is men and women inhabited by intellects that blend with or distort their characters and become important personal visions. Berlin is an impressionist …

Temperament of Genius

To the present-day reader who can know “Bloomsbury” only by hearsay, and for a critic like myself who read Virginia Woolf’s works as they came out but who had no acquaintance with the older survivors of the set until their middle age in the Second World War, they must seem …

Laughter in the Dark

Shchedrin is known to English-speaking readers only by his great novel The Golovlyov Family, the most somber and pitiless instance of black comedy in Russian literature of the nineteenth century. Now, in the first English translation of The History of a Town, we see the master of political satire, for …

Displaced Person

Unstable as water. “No guts,” as the English say…. I would never be part of anything, never belong anywhere…something would always go wrong…. A stranger and after all I didn’t care. So Jean Rhys reflected when she was put to the torture of attempting an autobiography in her mid-eighties. It …

A Fine Rough English Diamond

One impression of ordinary English life from the mid-eighteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth is that it is thronged by an ever-increasing crowd of grotesque bodies, sprawling in their energetic vulgarity or skinny in their dramatic misery. The overwhelming impression is of a crowd bursting with involuntary imaginative …

Contradictory Lawrence

The hectoring urgency in D. H. Lawrence’s novels has been outstripped by what has happened to us all since his time. His short stories and poems seem to me his finest work, and his prolific letters stand out among the most lived and arresting in the English language. They reveal …

Doomed for Success

In British social history there are innumerable examples of the disadvantaged man rising in the world and becoming eminent. The class system is mobile. There have been fewer examples, until the 1930s, of upper-class figures attempting, on principle, to go down hill, though, especially in the arts and sciences, there …

Love and Hate

That experienced Flaubertian Francis Steegmuller now replaces an earlier selection of the novelist’s famous letters between 1830 (when he was nine) until 1857 when he published Madame Bovary. There is a second volume to come. His translations are admirable and overcome the difficulty of catching the tune of Flaubert’s prose; …

A Spy Romance

It is not always pleasant when events of one’s half-forgotten past come back in middle age, bite at the heart and stir up guilt. Ostrakova, a poor and apparently humdrum Russian woman of fifty who works in a Paris warehouse, is in fact the widow of a Russian defector who …

Shredded Novels

Ian McEwan has been recognized as an arresting new talent in the youngest generation of English short story writers. His subject matter is often squalid and sickening; his imagination has a painful preoccupation with the adolescent secrets of sexual aberration and fantasy. But in his accomplishment as a story writer …