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V. S. Pritchett, short-story master

V. S. Pritchett, a master of the English short story and keen observer of humanity, has died at age 96.

Mr. Pritchett, who suffered a stroke in January, died Thursday, said his son, Oliver Pritchett.

Knighted in 1975 for services to literature, Mr. Pritchett published more than 40 books of short stories, novels, essays, literary criticism, travel and autobiography. He was noted for his brilliant portraits of people in his stories and journalism.

His much-admired travel book, Dublin: A Portrait, appeared in 1967, and he edited the Oxford Book of Short Stories in 1981.

He always wrote in longhand, honing his stories through several rewrites. His wife, Dorothy, typed them.

In an interview with the Associated Press before his 90th birthday, he offered this advice to aspiring writers: "Unself yourself. Try for a moment to be the man you are listening to.

"I made a point of believing what I heard even though it was fantasy, because it is part of a man's nature to have fantasies. It has been said that too many of my characters are eccentric, but they are not really. They are people who are just speaking to themselves."

Novelist Elizabeth Bowen called him the "most important English practitioner" of the short story.

The Times of London said of his travel writing: "Everywhere he slips unobtrusively into the life of the country and lets it speak for itself."

Victor Sawdon Pritchett was born in Ipswich in eastern England on Dec. 16, 1900.

He called the first volume of his autobiography A Cab at the Door, recalling his father's penchant for frequent moves to elude his creditors. "It gave me a lifelong love of travel," he said.

He left school at 15, had his early essays rejected, moved to Paris at 20 to work in the glue trade and was first published in London magazines with his account of an 80-mile walk from Paris to Orleans.

Reporting from Ireland and Spain for the Christian Science Monitor gave him his first regular income as a writer and he then settled to a literary life in London.

Mr. Pritchett, who never learned how to drive, made long walks in Spain, Ireland and North America between the world wars.

"I didn't want to see the big cities and normal life," he said. "I wanted to see abnormal life."