Town Major of Miraucourt: Priestley’s 1918

Town-Major

Front cover of The Town Major of Miraucourt, Turnpike Books, 2017

This little pamphlet made a welcome appearance in our post-tray today.  The Town Major of Miraucourt is a short story by J.B. Priestley, reprinted by Turnpike Books, and on sale from 1 December 2017.  Nicely timed for Christmas present-giving!

The pamphlet is now part of the J.B. Priestley book collection at the University of Bradford, where it and copies of all the other titles mentioned in this piece are preserved and made available to the public.

I’d like to reflect a little on The Town Major of Miraucourt and its unique place in Priestley’s immense output.  It is the only fictional work based on the author’s experiences during the First World War.

Why was this Priestley’s only fictional account of the War?  Surely the five years Priestley spent in the Army were rich in potential incidents and characters and ideas for a novelist or playwright to explore?  Yes, but he decided not to pursue this approach.  As he later explained in his memoir Margin Released, first of all, he wanted to forget about the War and get on with the life so shockingly interrupted.  Then he came to realise that as a writer he was not drawn to war: it did not inspire him.  He found it impossible to reconcile the two faces of war, the grotesque mixture of murderous slaughter with the “slapstick, so much gigantically solemn, dressed-up, bemedalled custard pie work” of Army life.

Priestley, JB Lost generation cr

Detail from cover of The Lost Generation, by J.B. Priestley

Yet he did (I think) manage to reconcile these elements in ‘Carry On, Carry On’, the unforgettable middle section of Margin Released.  Priestley tore into the folly and ignorance that sent his generation to its mechanised death, while documenting the fun, silliness, quirks and everyday humanity going on at the same time.

PRI21_2_8 With officers and men of the 2nd

Priestley with officers and men of the 2nd Devonshires.  Archive reference: PRI 21/2/8

In Town Major, written over thirty years before Margin Released, Priestley also captured the humour and reflected on the meaning and implications of war.  The story is set in 1918, beginning with a barely fictionalised account of Priestley’s life at that time.  He, like his surviving contemporaries, had been through so much by then: trench warfare, serious injury, brutal training camps, the loss of his friends and comrades.  In 1918 Priestley had returned briefly to the Front, been gassed, rated B2 by the medical board (fit but not fully fit), and sent to work with the Labour Corps depot.  His protagonist has the same experiences, which then however take a weird turn.  En route to Rouen, he finds himself in Miraucourt, a mysterious French village seemingly untouched by war.  There he meets a group of soldiers who echo Shakespeare’s own larger-than-life creations: are they Falstaff and his company …?

Town Major shares the woozy, dreamy quality of ‘Carry On, Carry On’: Priestley and his fictional counterpart are traumatised and weary, adrift in a chaotic, devastated and disconnected landscape where anything might happen and time has little meaning.  “There was perhaps always a suspicion in one’s mind that the whole thing might be slipping out of any kind of control, even that of roaring death.  Sanity, one concluded, might easily be bombed away for good and all.”

Priest_1_Tow. Priestley, The town major.Titlepage

Title page of The Town Major of Miraucourt, Heinemann, 1930

This evocative story has been relatively inaccessible until now.  It was first published in the London Mercury of October 1929 and reprinted as a limited edition in vellum with slipcase by Heinemann in 1930.  Its only later appearance in full was in the compilation Four-in-Hand (Heinemann, 1934), although parts were included in Priestley’s Wars (Great Northern, 2008).  So the reprint is most welcome and will (we hope) bring this glimpse of Priestley’s war to new audiences almost 100 years on.

 

Advertisements

The Calliphon Mystery …

Between 1953 and 1969 Calvin Wells wrote numerous columns for the Eastern Daily Press under the nom de plume ‘Calliphon’. Wells was a well-known physician of high social standing in East Anglia and it is possible he found greater freedom of expression writing through a pseudonym. Although many readers wrote letters of enquiry, Calliphon never […]

via Calliphon. — Putting Flesh on the Bones

Work with us!: Vacancy for a Project Conservator

STOP PRESS – CLOSING DATE NOW 11 NOVEMBER

We’re looking for a Conservator to join the Putting Flesh on the Bones Project Team.

The post of Project Conservator is central to the delivery of the project, which aims to make the hidden and scattered Calvin Wells Archive fully available to the public.  Funded by a Wellcome Trust Research Resources grant, PFOTB is a collaboration between Special Collections and the Biological Anthropology Research Centre (BARC) at the University of Bradford.

Discover more about Dr Wells and his work via the Putting Flesh on the Bones project blog.

The Conservator will take the lead on all aspects of collections care within the project, including repairs, remedial conservation, secondary packaging and digitisation preparation activities.  There will also be the opportunity to help improve collections care throughout the Special Collections service.

We are looking for a qualified conservator with specialist knowledge and work-based experience relevant to the project.  They will also need excellent communication skills and be able to manage their own workload.  More about the role and our requirements on the University’s job website.

Post reference: HR0048513.

The post is part-time for 12 months.

Closing date: 1 November 2017.

Rediscover the Inspector online

Studying An Inspector Calls?  We are proud to have assisted the British Library in creating a fantastic new archive-based resource to help GCSE and A-level students, undergraduates and other learners enjoy and understand this work.

PRI 9_1_7 An Inspector Calls Moscow USSR poster

Poster for the first production of An Inspector Calls, in the USSR (archive reference PRI 9/1/7).

The resource, the Discovering Literature website, aims to set the Inspector and other great works of literature in their cultural, social and political contexts.  Two new articles, specially commissioned for this project, explain the story and influence of An Inspector Calls:

Journalist and author Chris Power explores the meaning and structure of the play in his Introduction.  He memorably describes AIC as a  “a morality play disguised as a detective thriller” in which all the characters turn out to be guilty: guilty of selfishness, hypocrisy and callousness.

Special Collections Librarian Alison Cullingford contributed an article reflecting on the ways in which Priestley’s  Bradford childhood and experiences in both World Wars shaped his political thinking and fuelled the anger and urgency that drive An Inspector Calls.

Both articles are extensively illustrated with high quality images from our Priestley archive and other collections, many made available online for the first time.

Do let us know if you find the material helpful in your study or teaching.  We like feedback!

So, what is a palaeopathologist?

We’ve been asked this question several times over the last week or so.  Why?  The University of Bradford has been in the news with an archives project that is fascinating journalists, academics, and members of the public.  The project, ‘Putting Flesh on the Bones‘, is a Wellcome-funded joint endeavour between Special Collections the School of Archaeological and Forensic Sciences at the University of Bradford.

male and female brow images m7

We are investigating the life and work of, yes, a palaeopathologist,   Dr Calvin Wells.  A palaeopathologist is a scientist who studies ancient pathologies (injuries, disease).  Dr Wells was a pioneer in this discipline, reporting on skeletal finds from many archaeological sites.  The people whose remains he studied led often difficult, violent and painful lives – all shown in the growth of and damage to the bones.

Coverage so far includes:

There will be much more to discover as we delve deeper into this rich archive.  Keep in touch with project developments via the project blog.

Our Archaeological Sciences colleagues are expert palaeopathologists, using old and new techniques to unlock the secrets of the bones.  Which brings me to the pleasant task of welcoming a new colleague, our Project Osteologist, Michelle Williams-Ward.  Michelle is working on burials in medieval Norfolk for her PhD student at the University. Her project role involves making sense of the many images of bones in the archive.  This requires considerable expertise.  Michelle’s insights have already proved most helpful!

A Blog of Bones

Discover a world of bones, bodies and diseases in our new blog, created by Project Archivist James Neill …

calvin-wells-m110 cr

‘Putting Flesh on the Bones’ is a collaboration between the University of Bradford’s Special Collections and Biological Anthropology Research Centre (BARC). With generous support from the Wellcome Trust, the project will undertake the cataloguing, digitisation and promotion of the Calvin Wells Archive Collection. It is intended that the collection will become a valuable resource for […]

via An Introduction — Putting Flesh on the Bones

Welcome to our new Archivist!

Meet James Neill, who has just joined Special Collections as Project Archivist.

James

James will be with us for 18 months, working on the Wellcome-funded ‘Putting Flesh on the Bones Project’, a collaboration between Special Collections and Archaeological Sciences.  Working closely with the rest of the project team, James will be cataloguing, digitising, preserving, and promoting the rich and unique archive of pioneering palaeopathologist Dr Calvin Wells.  He will be based in Richmond Building but will also be seen around Special Collections.

James received his archive qualification from the University of Glasgow in 2013.  Since then he has worked for all kinds of arts, heritage and academic organisations,  including the Mercers’ Company, London Metropolitan Archives and the University of Arts London, and on collections ranging from the Estate Papers of Sir Richard Whittington to the counter-cultural comic books of Robert Crumb.  This wide experience will be very helpful in navigating the complications of the Wells material!  Find out more about him on his staff webpage.