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The Wheelbarrow by V. S. Pritchett

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In August 1960 The London Magazine published V. S. Pritchett’s short story ‘The Wheelbarrow’ alongside four poems by Derek Walcott and reviews by Louis MacNeice, Roy Fuller and Frank Kermode. Pritchett, himself an avid short story writer, professed that to write a short story ‘is exquisitely difficult’ yet – as his word choice suggests – it was also one of his favourite forms to practice. In fact, when interviewed by The Paris Review Pritchett spoke openly of his preference for short fiction:

The short story appealed to me straight away because of its shortness, and I preferred it to the novel. It represents a certain vision of reality that consists of isolating the incident. The great thing about the short story is the detail, not the plot. The plot is useful, but only for supplying the sort of detail that is not descriptive but which pushes the action forward. Many critics have noticed this about my stories.

At the start of the new millennium the Royal Society of Literature founded The V.S. Pritchett Memorial Prize to commemorate the centenary of the author who was widely regarded as one of the finest English short-story writers of the 20th century. The prize is awarded to the best unpublished short story of the year.

The Wheelbarrow by V. S. Pritchett in The London Magazine.
The Wheelbarrow by V. S. Pritchett in The London Magazine.

Tonight the RSL celebrate the presentation of the annual prize with the judges who will discuss the complexities, the wonders, the highs and the lows of writing short fiction. This year’s judges include Somerset Maugham Award winner Adam Mars-Jones, Dylan Thomas Award winner Rose Tremain as well as editor Philip Hensher who has spent the last two years surrounded by short fiction in his quest to curate The Penguin Book of the British Short Story, published just last month.

Eudora Welty went as far to say that ‘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’. Read an exclusive extract from ‘The Wheelbarrow’ as it first appeared in The London Magazine below:

She did not hear him. Her face had drained of waking light. She had entered blindly into a dream in which she could hardly drag herself along. She was looking painfully through the album, rocking her head slowly from side to side, her mouth opening a little and closing on the point of speech, a shoulder rising as if she had been hurt, and her back moving and saying as she felt the clasp of the past like hands on her. She was looking at ten forgotten years of her life, her own life, not her family’s, and she did not laugh when she saw the skirts too long, the top-heavy hats hiding the eyes, her face too full and fat, her plainness so sullen, her prettiness too open-mouthed and loud, her look too grossly shy. In this one, sitting at the cafe table by the lake when she was nineteen, she looked masterful and at least forty. In this garden picture she was theatrically fancying herself as an ancient Greek in what looked like a night-gown! One of her big toes, she noticed, turned up comically in the sandal she was wearing. Here on a rock by the sea, in a bathing dress, she had got so thin again — that was her marriage — and look at her hair! This picture of the girl on skis, sharp-faced, the eyes narrowed —who was that? Herself — yet how could she have looked like that! But she smiled a little at last at the people she had forgotten. This man with the crinkled fair hair, a German — how mad she had been about him. But what pierced her was that in each picture of herself she was just out of reach, flashing and yet dead; and that really it was the things that burned in the light of permanence — the chairs, the tables, the trees, the car outside the cafe, the motor launch on the lake. These blinked and glittered. They had lasted and were ageless, untouched by time, and she was not.

For more information about the event visit The Royal Society of Literature website here

By Thea Hawlin

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