‘The Camberwell Beauty’ by V.S. Pritchett

Pritchett, V.S. 1974

The Camberwell Beauty by V.S. Pritchett, 1974

The magic trick:

Combining setting with concept and metaphor

“The Camberwell Beauty” takes the reader into England’s high-end antique trade, but it soon becomes clear Pritchett did not pick this setting and scene simply because he likes antiques. The whole story begins to work as a metaphor as the narrator falls in love with Isabel. His desire to find and possess her is exactly the same as the desire felt by antique dealers for certain objects and collections. She exists as a quest, a prized accomplishment, more than she does as an actual human being. As a result, the story, previously a fairly drab character study amidst the unscrupulous antiquing industry, becomes an interesting consideration on possessive love. And that’s quite a trick on Pritchett’s part.

The selection:

The moral is this: if “The Burning of Cranmer” was August’s treasure, it was hopeless to try and get it before he had time to guess what mine was. It was clear to him that I was too new to the trade to have one.

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