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Why was I born, get me out of this, let me live on less and less, get me to the grave, the womb, the last door, dragging this ludicrous, feeble, windy broken old bag of pipes with me.
He left school at fifteen and entered the leather trade as an apprentice.
In the 1920s he worked as a shop assistant in Paris and later as a newspaper correspondent in Ireland and Spain, before eventually returning to England, where he wrung out a living as a family man, fiction writer, and professional critic. “Not far at all, but I did seize the nature of these writers in some of their pages.” In a way, that is all Pritchett ever did: he became the master of seizing the natures of other writers, just as he was a master of seizing the nature of people in his fiction.
In his memoir (1971), Pritchett wrote of his chaotic reading as a young man in Paris, skipping meals to pay for volumes of Anatole France or Guy de Maupassant, greedily and hastily devoured. Jeremy Treglown, Pritchett’s biographer, felt that other people were Pritchett’s sole religion.
He “approached books as he approached people: with sympathetic and respectful curiosity, and with undoctrinaire discrimination.” Like Woolf, Pritchett was impatient with prevailing conventions of literary character, preferring the freedom of the great Russians, who did not look down on their characters or prod them about in an obstacle course of plot.
He generously recommended the has since gone out of print, and seems unlikely now to be reissued.
It’s a massive tome, over thirteen hundred pages, and weighs about the same as a cast-iron skillet. It is also, admittedly, a rather hideous object: my Random House edition, with its faded teal and lilac hues, suggests not so much a literary work as an elaborate cookbook.As an undergraduate, I gave up trying to write fiction (my only completed story bore the decidedly unpromising title “Growing Marijuana”) and realized I wanted to write literary criticism instead.Troubled by the cavernous gaps in my reading, I sent a fan letter to James Wood, whom I didn’t know personally but whom I admired deeply, and asked him what he thought an aspiring young critic ought to read.Surely he had a hand in helping to shape their English-language reputation, just as he was always generously receptive to younger talent.Pritchett’s review of Mulk Raj Anand’s (1936) gave the Indian novelist “enough happiness to requite me for all the pain and torment that had been wrung out of me by the passion of that book.” Like his near contemporary Virginia Woolf, Pritchett had no formal education.at the point of idleness and inertia in their undramatic moment when time is passing through them and the inner life exposes itself unguardedly in speech.” Similarly, Pritchett admired Ivan Turgenev for his ability to “unself himself” and become his characters.Pritchett wrote that fictional characters could be measured for height, and he felt that too many novelists were content to write miniatures they could look down on from their panoptic desks.And he did it not with the skeptical distance of a scholar but with the messy proximity of the fellow practitioner.Though he is remembered primarily for being one of the most prodigious and best-loved short-story writers of the twentieth century, Pritchett was a tireless book critic, contributing frequently to the pages of .The same can be said of certain literary critics and theorists, many of whom are eager to serve as watchful judges, sternly banging their gavels.Pritchett, on the other hand, wrote metaphorically, imaginatively, about the writers under review—almost as if they were characters themselves.