Postscript Sunday 15 September 1940

Charles Dickens: a pictorial biography, by J.B. Priestley

Charles Dickens: a pictorial biography, by J.B. Priestley

This broadcast followed on from the 8 September Postscript, in which Priestley tried to inspire those facing the Blitz.  Priestley paid tribute to London, where he had lived or spent a great deal of time since the early 1920s.  He had believed that the “true cockney spirit, independence, ironic humour, cheek and charm”  he admired in the works of Charles Dickens were gone, disliking the “vast, colourless” suburbs and the shocking extremes of wealth and poverty seen in the West End.  He was pleased to have been proved wrong.  Seeing “fires like open wounds” caused by the bombing, Priestley realised he loved the city.  He contrasted Paris, which had fallen, its people deceived and betrayed, with London, which was continuing to stand for freedom.

Priestley used Sam Weller, the cheeky, independent cockney character from Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, as an example of the cockney spirit.  Priestley was a great admirer of Dickens’ work, and wrote articles and even a couple of books about him.   Priestley’s own writing, especially the novels, can be seen in the tradition of Dickens: humane, picaresque, expansive.  Priestley is a little harsh on himself for not realising the qualities of modern London: Angel Pavement, published in 1930, is as vivid a picture of work and city life as anything Dickens produced.  The City of London becomes a character in the book:

“And somehow this glimpse of St. Paul’s suddenly made him realise that this was the genuine old monster, London.  He felt the whole mass of it, spouting and fuming and roaring away …”

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