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John Osborne (John James Osborne) Biography

(1929–94), (John James Osborne), A Better Class of Person, Epitaph for George Dillon

British playwright, born in London, the son of a commercial artist; he was educated at Belmont School, Devon. The first volume of his autobiography, A Better Class of Person (1981), describes his unhappy childhood and his years as an actor in provincial repertory, during which he wrote Epitaph for George Dillon in collaboration with Anthony Creighton. This study of alienation and ennui was not, however, performed until 1958, by which time its author's name had been made by a vastly more eloquent and influential play, Look Back in Anger (1956). The late 1950s and early 1960s proved to be Osborne's most fruitful period, producing as they did The Entertainer (1957), which brought Laurence Olivier from the classical to the contemporary stage as Archie Rice, a shoddy survivor of the great days of music hall; Luther (1961), based on the life of (as Osborne saw him) a troubled yet inspiriting rebel in conflict with his father, his God, his own inadequacies, and a decadent Church and world; Inadmissible Evidence (1964); and A Patriot for Me (1965), about the rise and fall of an officer with the misfortune to be both bourgeois and homosexual in the Austro-Hungarian military élite. All Osborne's work was highly critical of those aspects of contemporary society he thought damaging to the emotionally alive individual. Often, he selected a single character to give what he called ‘lessons in feeling’ in opposition to or in conflict with apathy, triviality, stupidity, cupidity, or other manifestations of an uncaring world. Osborne's later work, starting with Time Present (1968) and The Hotel in Amsterdam (1968), was, however, more sweeping in its vituperation and perhaps less discriminating in its choice of targets. In West of Suez (1971), A Sense of Detachment (1972), and Watch It Come Down (1976), it also became increasingly nostalgic for civilized decencies he believed had been lost in ‘the whole, hideous, headlong rush into the 20th century’. Though the divide between the two was never as absolute as it might at first seem, the archetypal Angry Young Man became a somewhat more conservative older one: a change explicit in Osborne's Deja Vu (1992), which showed Jimmy Porter, the protagonist of Look Back in Anger, in rancorous late middle age, denouncing contemporary liberalism as forthrightly as he had earlier attacked the old-fashioned, reactionary, and out-of-date.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Joseph O'Connor Biography to Cynthia Ozick Biography