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Priestley, J(ohn) B(oynton)

(British, 1894–1984)

Priestley's literary career spanned fifty years. He survived long enough to be among the last in the line of what used to be called ‘a man of letters’—producing a vast output ranging from journalism, essays, and critical works to novels, stage plays, and film-scripts. He renamed his home town of Bradford ‘Bruddersford’ in his most popular novel, The Good Companions (1929), a rumbustious, wryly humorous tale of a touring concert-party, the Dinky Doos, which owes a debt to Dickens in its profusion of character and incident. Angel Pavement (1930), set in London, is another sprawling novel but bleaker in tone and finer in execution, revolving around a small city firm and the threadbare, treadmill existence of its clerks and typists. The seedy glamour of the theatre obviously appealed to Priestley; he returned to it in Lost Empires (1965), which lovingly re-creates the music-hall of 1914. Bright Day (1946) is perhaps his most interesting novel, in which a middle-aged screen-writer (Priestley not even thinly disguised) looks back with unsentimental nostalgia at his younger self in the promising ‘bright day’ before the outbreak of the First World War.

Much of Priestley's fiction can be described as a rollicking good read, in that his characters are slapped on with a broad brush and the plot rushes on regardless; yet there is always exuberance and vitality. He himself felt unjustly dismissed by the critics, and he is best remembered for his so-called Time plays, such as An Inspector Calls and Dangerous Corner. To catch Priestley's distinctive voice—that of the bluff, down-to-earth Yorkshireman dispensing common sense—read English Journey (1934), a trenchant and highly enjoyable account of his travels.

Arnold Bennett, H. G. Wells  TH

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Pa-Sc)