V. S. Pritchett

British writer and critic

Victor Sawdon Pritchett (16 December 190020 March 1997) was a British short story writer, novelist, memoirist and critic.


  • Now, practically all reviewers have academic aspirations. The people from the universities are used to a captive audience, but the literary journalist has to please his audience.
  • It's very important to feel foreign. I was born in England, but when I'm being a writer, everyone in England is foreign to me.
  • Yes, well I had all my serious illnesses in late middle age. And now I'm just stuck, I'm afraid.
    • As quoted in "V.S. Pritchett's Century" (1990) by Martin Amis; later included in Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions (1993) by Martin Amis, p. 265
  • I found people were telling stories to themselves without knowing it. It seemed to me that people were living a sort of small sermon that they believed in, but at the same time it was a fairy tale. Selfish desires, along with one or two highly suspect elevated thoughts. They secretly regard themselves as works of art, valuable in themselves.
    • As quoted in "V.S. Pritchett's Century" (1990) by Martin Amis; later included in Visiting Mrs. Nabokov and Other Excursions (1993) by Martin Amis, p. 272

London Perceived (1962)

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, ISBN 0-15-652970-X
  • The peculiar foreign superstition that the English do not like love, the evidence being that they do not talk about it.
    • Ch. 1, p. 14
  • Mass society destroys the things it is told are its inheritance. It is rarely possible to see the Abbey without being surrounded by thousands of tourists from all over the world. Like St. Peter's at Rome, it has been turned into a sinister sort of railway terminal. The aisles are as crowded as the pavements of Oxford Street or the alleys of a large shop, imagination is jostled, awe dispersed, and the mind never at rest. All great things, in our time, can only be seen in fragments, by fragmentary people.
    • Ch. 5, p. 162

Midnight Oil (1971)

  • Life — how curious is that habit that makes us think it is not here, but elsewhere.
    • Vol. 2, Ch. 6
  • How extraordinary it is that one feels most guilt about the sins one is unable to commit.
    • Vol. 2, Ch. 10

On the Edge of the Cliff: Short Stories (1979)

Random House, ISBN 0-394-74047-5
  • In her businesslike way she thought that her life had begun when she was a very young woman and she really did look lovely: you knew it wouldn't last and you packed all you could into it — but men were different. A man like B — like Alfie, too — never got beyond the time when they were boys and, damn them, it kept them young.
    • "The Worshippers", p. 87

The Myth Makers: European and Latin American Writers (1979)

Random House, ISBN 0-394-74682-1
  • The present has its élan because it is always on the edge of the unknown and one misunderstands the past unless one remembers that this unknown was once part of its nature.
  • Absolute Evil is not the kingdom of hell. The inhabitants of hell are ourselves, i.e., those who pay our painful, embarrassing, humanistic duties to society and who are compromised by our intellectually dubious commitment to virtue, which can be defined by the perpetual smear-word of French polemic: the bourgeois. (Bourgeois equals humanist.) This word has long been anathema in France where categories are part of the ruling notion of logique. The word cannot be readily matched in England or America.
  • The nineteenth century will colonize; so, in its fantasies, did the nineteenth century soul. When Emma [Bovary] turns spendthrift and buys curtains, carpets and hangings from the draper, the information takes on something from the theme of the novel itself: the material is a symbol of the exotic, and the exotic feeds the Romantic appetite. It will lead to satiety, bankruptcy and eventually to nihilism and the final drive towards death and nothingness.
  • Because of the influence of the cinema, most reports or stories of violence are so pictorial that they lack content or meaning. The camera brings them to our eyes, but does not settle them in our minds, nor in time.

The Tale Bearers: English and American Writers (1980)

Random House, ISBN 0-394-74683-X
  • Like many popular best-sellers, he was a very sad and solemn man who took himself too seriously and his art not seriously enough.
  • To be identified with the public is the divine gift of the best-sellers in popular Romance and, no doubt, in popular realism. E. M. Forster once spoke of the novelist as sending down a bucket into the unconscious; the author of She installed a suction pump. He drained the whole reservoir of the public's secret desires. Critics speak of the reader suspending unbelief; the best-seller knows better; man is a believing animal.
    • "Rider Haggard: Still Riding", p. 25
  • One recalls how much the creative impulse of the best-sellers depends upon self-pity. It is an emotion of great dramatic potential.
    • "Rider Haggard: Still Riding", p. 28
  • On one plane, the very great writers and the popular romancers of the lower order always meet. They use all of themselves, helplessly, unselectively. They are above the primness and good taste of declining to give themselves away.
    • "Rider Haggard: Still Riding", p. 29
  • There is more magic in sin if it is not committed.
  • Prep school, public school, university: these now tedious influences standardize English autobiography, giving the educated Englishman the sad if fascinating appearance of a stuffed bird of sly and beady eye in some old seaside museum. The fixation on school has become a class trait. It manifests itself as a mixture of incurious piety and parlour game.
  • Most comic writers like to think they could play it straight if only their public would let them. Waugh is able to be grave without difficulty for he has always been comic for serious reasons. He has his own, almost romantic sense of propriety.
    • "Evelyn Waugh: Club and Country", p. 101
  • Great artists are always far-seeing. They easily avoid the big stumbling blocks of fact. They rely on their own simplicity and vision. It is fact-fetichism that has given us those scores and scores of American books on America, the works of sociologists, anthropologists, topical "problem" hunters, working-parties and statisticians, which in the end leave us empty. Henry James succeeds because he rejects information. He was himself the only information he required.
    • "Henry James: Birth of a Hermaphrodite", p. 131
  • Wilson was not, in the academic sense, a scholar or historian. He was an enormous reader, one of those readers who are perpetually on the scent from book to book. He was the old-style man of letters, but galvanized and with the iron of purpose in him.
    • "Edmund Wilson: Towards Revolution", p. 141
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