Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett
Biography of Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett
Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett (16 December 1900 – 20 March 1997), was a British writer and critic. He was particularly known for his short stories, collected in a number of volumes. His most famous nonfiction works are the memoirs A Cab at the Door (1968) and Midnight Oil (1971), and his many collections of essays on literary biography and criticism.
Victor Sawdon Pritchett was born in Ipswich, Suffolk, the first of four children of Walter Sawdon Pritchett and Beatrice Helena (née Martin). His father, a London businessman in financial difficulties, had come to Ipswich to start a shop selling newspapers and stationery. The business was struggling and the couple was lodging over a toyshop at 41 St Nicholas Street where Pritchett was born on 16 December 1900. Beatrice had expected a girl, whom she planned to name after the Queen. Pritchett never liked his first name, which is why he always styled himself with his initials and even close friends called him VSP.
Pritchett's father was a steady Christian Scientist and unsteady in all else. Walter and Beatrice had come to Ipswich to be near her sister, who had married money and lived in Warrington Road. Within a year Walter was declared bankrupt, the family moved to Woodford, Essex, then to Derby, and he began selling women's clothing and accessories as a travelling salesman. Pritchett was soon sent with his brother Cyril to live with their paternal grandparents in Sedbergh, where the boys attended their first school. Walter's business failures, his casual attitude to credit and his easy deceitfulness obliged the family to move frequently. The family was reunited, but life was always precarious. They tended to live in London suburbs with members of Beatrice's family, but returned to Ipswich in 1910 to live for a year near Cauldwell Hall Road, trying to evade Walter's creditors. At this time Pritchett attended St John's School. Subsequently he attended Alleyn's School, Dulwich and Dulwich College but he stayed nowhere for very long. When his father went to fight in World War I, Pritchett left school. Later in the war Walter turned his hand to aircraft design, of which he knew nothing, and his later ventures included art needlework, property speculation and faith healing.
Pritchett was a leather buyer from 1916 to 1920, when he moved to Paris to work as a shop assistant. In 1923 he started writing for the Christian Science Monitor, which sent him to Ireland and Spain. From 1926 he wrote reviews for that paper and for the New Statesman, which later appointed him its literary editor.
Pritchett's first book, Marching Spain( 1928), describes a journey across Spain, and his second book, Clare Drummer (1929), is about his experiences in Ireland. While he was there he met Evelyn Vigors, the woman who became his first wife. It was not to be a happy marriage.
Pritchett published five novels, but he claimed not to enjoy writing them. His reputation was established by a collection of short stories, The Spanish Virgin and Other Stories (1932).
In 1936 he divorced his first wife and married Dorothy Rudge Roberts, with whom he had two children. The marriage lasted until Pritchett's death in 1997, although they both had other relationships. Their children include the journalist Oliver Pritchett. (Oliver's own son is the cartoonist Matt Pritchett.)
During the Second World War Pritchett worked for the BBC and the Ministry of Information while continuing to write weekly essays for the New Statesman. After the war he wrote widely and started taking teaching positions at universities in the United States: Princeton (1953), the University of California (1962), Columbia University and Smith College. He was fluent in German, Spanish and French, and published successful biographies of Honoré de Balzac (1973), Ivan Turgenev (1977) and Anton Chekhov (1988), although he did not know Russian and had never visited the Soviet Union.
Pritchett was knighted in 1975 for his services to literature and became Companion of Honour in 1993. His awards included the Heinemann Award (1969), the PEN Award (1974), the W.H. Smith Literary Award (1990) and the Golden PEN Award (1994). He was President of PEN International, the worldwide association of writers and the oldest human rights organisation from 1974 until 1976. He died of a stroke in London on 20 March 1997.