In Mr. Pritchett's view, rules, regulations and blitzes have brought things to such a pass that the moment will come when only the reader "and the hundred best authors are left in the world and have somehow to shake down together." To prepare for this "unnerving situation" he has re-read and re-assessed some of these authors, and the essays collected in this book are the fruit of his cogitations.
Gibbon, Mrs. Gaskell, Dostoevsky, Fielding, Kilvert, Twain, Synge, Swift, Browning, are some of the writers Mr. Pritchett discusses. Names and dates are diverse, but nearly all have one common characteristic: they demonstrate the axiom that past and present are often parallel in most unexpected ways. Swift anticipated modern science and its consequences nearly two hundred years ago. Thackeray drew a modern Mayfair playboy when he created Rawdon Crawley. Huckleberry Finn is blood relation to Charlie Chaplin.
These essays should appeal to scholars and the unlearned alike. Those who have neglected their classics will make discoveries which they can follow up with the aid of the appendix. The well-read cannot fail to be stimulated by the learning, vitality and originality which make up the texture of Mr. Pritchett's mind. His pages are peppered with controversial statements; epigrams abound; digressions widen the range and personal opinions focus it; but critical virtuosity is always subordinated to the central problem, and always throws new light on it.