"No one alive writes a better English sentence," critic Irving Howe said of V.S. Pritchett. During his long career, which spanned most of the 20th century, Pritchett published five novels, two memoirs, several travel books, and hundreds of short stories, essays, and critical articles.
In this paragraph from the essay "London," Pritchett develops his short topic sentence ("London is prolific in its casualties, its human waste and eccentrics") with a series of sharply drawn examples.
by V.S. Pritchett
London is prolific in its casualties, its human waste and eccentrics. We see that blowsy red-haired woman with the gray beard who dances and skips about in the Haymarket. A well-known trial to bus conductors, the woman always carries a spare hat concealed in a brown-paper bag for traveling by bus. She changes her hat and then sings out:
He called me his Popsy WopsyAnd drops into a few unprintable words. We are very fond of her. There is the pavement artist who conducts a war with other street entertainers, especially those who use an animal to beg from the thousands of dog lovers, cat strokers, pigeon and duck feeders, the chronic animal lovers who swarm in London. "Worship God not animals," he scrawls in angry chalk on the pavement. There is the Negro bird warbler, ecstatic in his compulsion, and the King of Poland in his long golden hair and his long crimson robe. There are those solitaires with imaginary military careers and the frightening dry monotonous gramophone record of their battles and wounds. They are compelled, they utter, they click their heels, salute and depart. A pretty addled neighbor of mine used to mix up the washing of the tenants in her house when it hung on the line in her garden. She was getting her own back on the Pope, who had broken up her marriage to the Duke of Windsor. One has to distinguish between the divine mad and the people pursuing a stern, individual course. The elderly lady who arrives in white shorts on a racing bicycle at the British Museum every morning, winter and summer, is simply a student whom we shall see working under the gilded dome of the Reading Room. The taxi driver who answers you in the Latin he has picked up from the bishops he has been taking to and fro from the Athenaeum Club all his life is not consciously doing a comic turn. He is simply living his private life in public. As Jung says, we are dreaming all the time; consciousness merely interrupts. It was what Dickens noticed in Londoners a hundred years before.
But I don't care.
Selected Works by V.S. Pritchett
- Marching Spain, travel (1928)
- Clare Drummer, novel (1929)
- The Spanish Virgin and Other Stories (1930)
- You Make Your Own Life, stories (1938)
- The Living Novel and Latter Appreciations, criticism (1946)
- Mr. Beluncle, novel (1951)
- London Perceived, travel (1962)
- The Working Novelist, criticism (1965)
- Dublin: A Portrait, travel (1967)
- A Cab at the Door, memoirs (1968)
- Midnight Oil, memoir (1971)
- Balzac, biography (1973)
- On the Edge of the Cliff, short stories (1979)
- A Man of Letters, criticism (1985)
- The Complete Short Stories (1990)
- Complete Collected Essays (1991)
* First published in 1956 and revised in 1989, "London" by V.S. Pritchett appears in The Pritchett Century (titled The Essential Pritchett in the U.S.), published by Chatto & Windus in the U.K. (1998) and by Random House in the U.S. (1997).