Victor Sawden Pritchett (or VSP, as he preferred to be known) was a prolific British writer,born in 1900, he died in 1997. For fifty years of the twentieth century he produced stories, and he was popular.
Yes but, you might say, he’s writing about life an awfully long while ago. Why bother? There are lots of modern stories to choose from.
Well, it’s useful to see how things have changed, or not changed, in lived lives, and the way words are used. VSP once said:
“I should like to think that a writer just celebrates being alive. I shall be sorry to die, but the notion of seeing life celebrated from day to day is so wonderful that I can’t see the point of believing anything else.”
Of all the advice given out by writers, one of the few things they agree on is that writers should read. Many list VSP amongst their favourite authors. To find out why, you could look at critical discussions explaining what he did, and even how, but before you do that, track down one of his stories and see if the magic touches you.
You might start with, ‘The Voice’. It’s set during the London blitz, and begins:
A message came from the rescue party, who straightened up and leant on their spades in the rubble. The policeman said to the crowd: ‘Everyone keep quiet for five minutes. No talking, please. They’re trying to hear where he is.’
The silent crowd raised their faces and looked across the ropes to the church which, now it was destroyed, broke the line of the street like a decayed tooth.
Soon singing is heard, from below the rubble.
‘That’s Mr Morgan all right,’ the warden said. ‘He could sing. He got silver medals for it.’
The Reverend Frank Lewis frowned.
‘Gold, I shouldn’t wonder,’ said Mr Lewis dryly. Now he knew Morgan was alive, he said: ‘What the devil’s he doing in there? How did he get in? I locked up at eight o’clock last night myself.’
Lewis was a wiry, middle-aged man, but the white dust on his hair and his eyelashes, and the way he kept licking the dust off his dry lips, moving his jaws all the time, gave him the monkeyish, testy and suspicious air of an old man. He had been up all night on rescue work in the raid and he was tired out. The last straw was to find the church had gone and that Morgan, the so-called Reverend Morgan, was buried under it.
It’s not the last straw though, this is only the beginning. Eudora Welty said:
‘Any Pritchett story is all of it alight and busy at once, like a well-going fire. Wasteless and at the same time well-fed, it shoots up in flame from its own spark like a poem or a magic trick, self-consuming, with nothing left over. He is one of the great pleasure-givers in our language’
It’s as good a definition as any I’ve seen.
The scandal of it, Lewis was thinking. Must he sing so loud, must he advertise himself? I locked up myself last night. How the devil did he get in? And he really meant: How did the devil get in?
More to the point, will he get out, and what will happen along the way?