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The Pritchett Century


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Victor Sawdon Pritchett (1900-1997) was an extraordinarly prolific and versatile man of letters, widely regarded as one of the greatest stylist in the English language.


Pritchett has collected his favorite pieces from the impressive oeuvre of his father, noted critic and writer V.S. Pritchett (1900-97): parts of a Dickensian autobiography, travel pieces covering everything from the Amazon to the Appalachians, book reviews whose subjects range from Balzac to Rushdie, and, of course, his short stories. Raised in squalid surroundings he remembers with hardheaded affection, Pritchett became a revered knight of the realm. His own style was that of the great 19th-century realists‘he remained so true to the traditions that a reader will have the impression of opening a book written in an earlier era‘but he was open to stylistic innovations, as can be seen from the selections on Saul Bellow and García Márquez. His short stories will undoubtedly remain for some time a model of the genre. With convincing dialog and apt descriptions, they begin near a turning point, presenting a slice-of-life that gives readers a great deal to discuss about human behavior. Recommended for public and academic libraries.‘Marilyn Gaddis Rose, SUNY at Binghamton

Pritchett, who died this year, felt "vain" about being born in 1900, "at every birthday thinking of myself as pretty well as old as the century." This memorial omnibus edition (sensitively culled by his son, Oliver) includes essays and short stories, as well as excerpts from Pritchett's novels, travelogues, literary criticism, biographies and autobiographies. Looking back at the events of his lifetime, Pritchett recalled "[t]he smell of that London of my boyhood and bowler-hatted youth.... A city stinking, rather excitingly, of coal smoke, gas escapes, tanyards, breweries, horse manure and urine." Yet he was also savvy about postmodern society, in which "no professional writer becomes famous until his work has been televised or filmed." An acute portraitist with a genius for psychological nuance, he frequently allows his fictional characters to describe each other: "Mr. Singh spoke a glittering and palatial English‘the beautiful English a snake might speak, it seemed to the family‘that made a few pockmarks on his face somehow more noticeable" (from "When My Girl Comes Home"). His memoirs, A Cab at the Door and Midnight Oil, as well as his travel pieces on Ireland, Spain and Appalachia, showcase Pritchett's prodigious memory for voices and his quirky visual images. In his writings on other authors, Pritchett reveals the unblinking eye of a stern but sensitive critic. Either as an introduction to Pritchett's work, or as a sampler for the initiated, this volume is a delight. (Dec.) FYI: The volume includes a biographical piece by John Bayley that appeared in the London Review of Books (not seen by PW).

"A rich, comfortably large anthology of work by one of the most versatile and consistently satisfying writers
of the century." --The New York Times Book Review
"This volume is a delight." --Publishers Weekly
"Spark[s] with energy." --Times Literary Supplement

In a life that spanned almost the entire course of the twentieth century (he was born in 1900 and died in 1997), Sir Victor Pritchett mastered nearly every form of literature--Newsweek said he was "one of the last true men of letters." Sir Victor's son Oliver has made selections from each of his father's disciplines to illustrate the tremendous scope of his brilliance. Included in this volume are sections of Pritchett's memoirs, A Cab at the Door and Midnight Oil; his reflections on turning eighty; and an account of a visit to the Appalachians written in 1925. There are also portraits of Dublin, New York, the Amazon, and Spain; selections from the novels Dead Man Leading and Mr. Beluncle; thirteen complete short stories; excerpts from biographies of Turgenev and Chekhov; and critical pieces on Twain, Scott, Dickens, Eliot, Henry James, Tolstoy, Saul Bellow, and Salman Rushdie.
With Oliver Pritchett's appreciation of his father and John Bayley's "In Memoriam," The Pritchett Century stands as the most comprehensive collection of Sir Victor's work available in one volume.

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