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B. S. Johnson (Bryan Stanley William Johnson) Biography

(1933–73), (Bryan Stanley William Johnson), Travelling People, Albert Angelo, Trawl, The Unfortunates

British writer and film-maker, born in London, educated at King's College, London. His first novel, Travelling People (1963), was an experimental work employing a diversity of styles; the influences of J. Joyce, S. Beckett, F. O'Brien, and L. Sterne can be discerned in the deliberate fragmentation of the narrative and in the use of typographical devices to suggest breaks in continuity. This playful experimentation continued in the novels Albert Angelo (1964) and Trawl (1966; Somerset Maugham Award, 1967), the latter of which was described by the author as ‘all interior monologue, a representation of the inside of my mind but at one remove’, but reached its most extreme form in his celebrated ‘novel in a box’, The Unfortunates (1969), in which the twenty-seven loose-leaf sections could be arranged in any order. In this work, which dealt with the narrator's feelings on the death of a close friend from cancer, the author's intention was to ‘create an alternative to the enforced consecutiveness of the conventional novel’ and to offer the reader a metaphor for the randomness of experience. House Mother Normal: A Geriatric Comedy (1971) displayed the vein of black comedy running throughout Johnson's work. Consequences: A Novel (1972) was followed by Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry (1973); in this novel the author himself intrudes into the narrative in order to converse with the character. See the Old Lady Decently, the first part of the projected but never completed ‘Matrix’ trilogy on the theme of motherhood (other sections were to have been entitled Buried Although and Amongst Those Left Are You), was published posthumously in 1975. Other publications include a collection of short stories, Statement against Corpses (1964), published with Zulfikar Ghose; Street Children (1964), illustrated with photographs by Julia Trevelyan Oman; two volumes of poems published in 1963 and 1972; and The Evacuees (1968), a collection of personal narratives, which he made into a film of the same name for the BBC. The Unfortunates was also filmed for television. Other cinematic works include You're Human Like the Rest of Them, produced for the British Film Institute in 1967, and Up Yours Too, Guillaume Apollinaire! (BFI, 1968). Several of Johnson's plays were performed, including Whose Dog Are You? (1971), One Sodding Thing after Another (1967), and Entry, produced in 1965 for BBC radio. Consistently experimental in all his chosen media, Johnson attempted to deconstruct conventional narrative forms, to reflect what he saw as the multi-levelled nature of human experience.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Tama Janowitz Biography to P(atrick) J(oseph Gregory) Kavanagh Biography