Archive for the ‘V.S. Pritchett’ Category

pritchett184VS Pritchett was born in 1900, and died in 1997, having lived through 2 world wars and such astonishing wrenching changes as we cannot even imagine. An intelligent, inward man, he wrote novels and short stories and reviews, and was a very well regarded writer, much honored—knighted, even!–for his work. These two books were joined into one, and are autobiographical. His account of his childhood is sharply delineated, beautifully described. He grew up in an England that is fantastically ancient to us now, more belonging to the previous century than to ours. His father was a passionate Christian Scientist, and perpetually in financial difficulties. The family was always moving hither and thither (hence, the Cab at the Door), one step ahead of their creditors. But the weekly sessions at the Christian Scientist Service were a comfort.

“After the service everyone chatted happily. Father stood apart as a rule, on the look out for Error and as the congregation was mostly female, there was a good deal of it about, from his point of view; but generally his view, and mine, was that we had had a refreshing contact with the Absolute. We walked home but the voyage down from the Absolute to the Relative was tricky. Mother would be in her usual state of fighting with the kitchen stove.

‘Wait, look at this brute. Look at the smoke.’

‘Letting Error in,’ muttered Cyril.’

. . .

Why, I asked, did this happen? Why did Eternal Harmony vanish so quickly? Mrs. Norman and other would have said we were being ‘handled’ by malicious animal magnetism; others, ‘higher up in the movement’, would have said we were being ‘handled by Rome’, for it was well-known to advanced students that the Roman Catholic priesthood sent out spells of witchcraft especially upon Christian Scientists….”


After school, Pritchett briefly worked in the leather industry and then set off for Paris, where he began writing. He was never far from penury, and it was some time before he actually began earning a living as a journalist and then a writer. In this book he examines closely and dispassionately the long journey from callow clerk to assured writer. He met and often had interesting encounters with many of the important writers of the time, and learned his craft in the most appalling of circumstances. But he always noticed, kept notes, kept track.

This book was a rich source of reference to other books, other authors. Forrest Reid, Compton McKenzie, E.M. Forster, Henry Green (my father had some of his books, I have one). He also mentions meeting Yeats, AE, and Sean O’Casey when he was in Ireland—he was awed and impressed by Yeats— “He was kind enough to walk with me to the Irish Senate near by, and I was overcome when he leant on my shoulder while he lifted a foot, took off his shoe, and shook out a stone. I noticed he had a pretty blue ring on one of his fingers.”

Which reminds me of that charming poem by L.A.G. Strong:

When I was as high as that
I saw a poet in his hat.
I think the poet must have smiled
At such a solemn gazing child.
Now wasn`t it a funny thing
To get a sight of J.M. Synge,
And notice nothing but his hat?
Yet life is often queer like that.

Pritchett mentions his travels in Spain as being particularly inspiring and as waking him up from his ‘transcendentalist dream’. He compares the hard spare Spanish landscape to the misty floating visions of his native England.

 ” In the Castilian scene, distance was hard and taciturn. The colours themselves were harsher in the foreground, and there was, above all, an exact sight of shape and line. The earth did not fade into the transcendental; rock was rock, trees were trees, mountains were mountains and wilderness was wilderness. There was nothing of the ‘deeply interfused’; there was something that could be known and which it was necessary to know. There was a sense of the immediate and finite, so much more satisfying than the infinite, which had really starved me; a sense of the physical not of the spiritual. I felt I was human.”

The book goes on with a certain amount of then I wrote this and then I wrote that, and what I did wrong, but his is such clear and intelligent prose that one accepts it. Particularly as he follows that with more news of his whimsical and slightly deranged father.

A very interesting book, and one which has led me onto other authors of the 20’s and 30’s, that terrible and difficult time in our history.


Read Full Post »