V. S. Pritchett

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett CH CBE (16 December 1900 – 20 March 1997), was a British writer and critic. He was particularly known for his short stories, collected in a number of volumes. His most famous nonfiction works are the memoirs A Cab at the Door (1968) and Midnight Oil (1971), and his many collections of essays on literary biography and criticism.[1]


Victor Sawdon Pritchett was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, the first of four children of Walter Sawdon Pritchett and Beatrice Helena (née Martin). His father, a London businessman in financial difficulties, had come to Ipswich to start a shop selling newspapers and stationery. The business was struggling and the couple was lodging over a toy shop at 41 St Nicholas Street where Pritchett was born on 16 December 1900. Beatrice had expected a girl, whom she planned to name after the Queen. Pritchett never liked his first name, which is why he always styled himself with his initials and even close friends called him VSP.

Pritchett's father was a steady Christian Scientist and unsteady in all else. Walter and Beatrice had come to Ipswich to be near her sister, who had married money and lived in Warrington Road. Within a year Walter was declared bankrupt, the family moved to Woodford, Essex, then to Derby, and he began selling women's clothing and accessories as a travelling salesman. Pritchett was soon sent with his brother Cyril to live with their paternal grandparents in Sedbergh, where the boys attended their first school. Walter's business failures, his casual attitude to credit and his easy deceitfulness[a] obliged the family to move frequently. The family was reunited, but life was always precarious. They tended to live in London suburbs with members of Beatrice's family, but returned to Ipswich in 1910 to live for a year near Cauldwell Hall Road, trying to evade Walter's creditors. At this time Pritchett attended St John's School. Subsequently he attended Alleyn's School, Dulwich and Dulwich College but he stayed nowhere for very long. When his father went to fight in World War I, Pritchett left school. Later in the war Walter turned his hand to aircraft design, of which he knew nothing, and his later ventures included art needlework, property speculation and faith healing.

Pritchett was a leather buyer from 1916 to 1920, when he moved to Paris to work as a shop assistant. In 1923 he started writing for The Christian Science Monitor, which sent him to Ireland and Spain. From 1926 he wrote reviews for that paper and for the New Statesman, which later appointed him its literary editor.[2]

Pritchett's first book, Marching Spain (1928), describes a journey across Spain, and his second book, Clare Drummer (1929), is about his experiences in Ireland. While he was there he met Evelyn Vigors, the woman who became his first wife. It was not to be a happy marriage.

Pritchett published five novels, but he said he did not enjoy writing them. His reputation was established by a collection of short stories, The Spanish Virgin and Other Stories (1932).

In 1936 he divorced his first wife and married Dorothy Rudge Roberts, with whom he had two children. The marriage lasted until Pritchett's death in 1997, although they both had other relationships. Their children include the journalist Oliver Pritchett; Oliver's own son is the cartoonist Matt Pritchett.

During the Second World War Pritchett worked for the BBC and the Ministry of Information while continuing to write weekly essays for the New Statesman. After the war he wrote widely and started taking teaching positions at universities in the United States: Princeton (1953), the University of California (1962), Columbia University and Smith College. He was fluent in German, Spanish and French, and published successful biographies of Honoré de Balzac (1973), Ivan Turgenev (1977), and Anton Chekhov (1988).

Pritchett was knighted in 1975 for his services to literature and became Companion of Honour in 1993. His awards included the Heinemann Award (1969), the PEN Award (1974), the W.H. Smith Literary Award (1990) and the Golden PEN Award (1994).[3] He was President of PEN International, the worldwide association of writers and the oldest human rights organisation from 1974 until 1976. He died of a stroke in London on 20 March 1997.


The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize was founded by the Royal Society of Literature at the beginning of the new millennium to commemorate the centenary of the birth of "an author widely regarded as the finest English short-story writer of the 20th century, and to preserve a tradition encompassing Pritchett’s mastery of narrative."[4] The prize is awarded annually, with £1,000 being given for the best unpublished short story of the year.[4]


  • Marching Spain, 1928
  • Clare Drummer, 1929
  • The Spanish Virgin and Other Stories, 1932[5]
  • Shirley Sanz, 1932
  • Nothing Like Leather, 1935
  • Dead Man Leading, 1937
  • This England, 1938 (editor)
  • You Make Your Own Life, 1938
  • In My Good Books, 1942
  • It May Never Happen, 1945
  • Novels and Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1945 (editor)
  • Build the Ships, 1946
  • The Living Novel, 1946
  • Turnstile One, 1948 (editor)
  • Why Do I Write?: An Exchange of Views Between Elizabeth Bowen, Graham Greene, and V. S. Pritchett, 1948
  • Mr Beluncle, 1951
  • Books in General, 1953
  • The Spanish Temper, 1954
  • Collected Stories, 1956
  • The Sailor, The Sense of Humour and Other Stories, 1956
  • When My Girl Comes Home, 1961
  • London Perceived, 1962 (photographs by Evelyn Hofer)
  • The Key to My Heart, 1963
  • Foreign Faces, 1964
  • New York Proclaimed, 1965
  • The Working Novelist, 1965
  • The Saint and Other Stories, 1966
  • Dublin, 1967
  • A Cab at the Door, 1968
  • Blind Love, 1969
  • George Meredith and English Comedy, 1970
  • Midnight Oil, 1971
  • Penguin Modern Stories, 1971 (with others)
  • Balzac, 1973
  • The Camberwell Beauty, 1974
  • The Gentle Barbarian: the Life and Work of Turgenev, 1977
  • Selected Stories, 1978
  • On the Edge of the Cliff, 1979
  • Myth Makers, 1979
  • The Tale Bearers, 1980
  • The Oxford Book of Short Stories, 1981 (editor)
  • The Turn of the Years, 1982 (with R. Stone)
  • Collected Stories, 1982
  • More Collected Stories, 1983
  • The Other Side of a Frontier, 1984
  • A Man of Letters, 1985
  • Chekhov, 1988
  • A Careless Widow and Other Stories, 1989
  • Complete Short Stories, 1990
  • At Home and Abroad, 1990
  • Lasting Impressions, 1990
  • Complete Collected Essays, 1991
  • A Cab at the Door & Midnight Oil, 1994—ISBN 0-679-60103-1
  • The Pritchett Century, 1997


  1. ^ Walter Pritchett habitually pretended to be a member of the Athenaeum Club to obtain credit falsely, for example.


  1. ^ "VS Pritchett", Britannica (encyclopædia) .
  2. ^ Fulford 1997.
  3. ^ "Golden Pen Award" (official website). English PEN. Retrieved 3 December 2012. 
  4. ^ a b "V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize", The Royal Society of Literature.
  5. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "V. S. Pritchett". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. 


  • Baldwin, D (1987), VS Pritchett .
  • Epstein, Joseph (March 1993), "The enduring VS Pritchett", The New Criterion .
  • Fulford, Robert (2 April 1997), "VS Pritchett", The Globe and Mail (Toronto, CA) .
  • Serafin, Steven R, ed. (1999), Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century 3 .
  • Seymour-Smith, Martin; Kimmens, Andrew C (1996), World Authors 1900–1950 3 .
  • Stinson, John J (1992), VS Pritchett: A Study of the Short Fiction, New York .
  • Treglown, Jeremy (2004), VS Pritchett: A Working Life, London: Chatto & Windus, ISBN 0-7011-7322-X .

External links[edit]

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
Heinrich Theodor Böll
International President of PEN International
Succeeded by
Mario Vargas Llosa