Things as They Are

Frank Kermode began his excellent review of this fat and feisty volume with a statement that is at once factual and wildly misleading: "Sir Victor Pritchett is a Victorian." To be sure, Pritchett was born in 1900, when the Good Queen still sat on the throne and the sun never set on the empire, a time so distant that it seems almost fabulous. But there is nothing "Victorian" about V.S. Pritchett. The moral severity or hypocrisy (in a word, puritanism) that one associates with Victorianism is utterly foreign to his nature and to his work; for that matter, so too is the didactic urge to espouse some cause or other, correct the mistakes of both God and men, or propose a transvaluation of all values, beginning with those of the stuffy middle class—that is, the sort of urge that propelled such anti-Victorian Victorians as G.B. Shaw and D.H. Lawrence. No such animus moves Pritchett. His sole mission is to depict the antics, both comic and somber, of his countrymen at work and play. He would doubtless agree with Joseph Conrad that the writer's task is, "by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel—it is, before all, to make you see. That—and no more, and it is everything,"

Pritchett was fortunate, I believe, in having been born into the lower middle class—fortunate in that he has never felt the need to defend or rebel against his childhood conditioning. Though...

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