J.B. Priestley was a superlative and prolific essay writer. Getting started as a professional author after the First World War, he produced hundreds of pieces for newspapers and periodicals. These were often in a belles-lettristic style which was even then falling out of fashion: “personal in tone but elaborately composed”, whimsical, mannered, self-deprecating. But the demands and restrictions of such writing helped Priestley learn his craft. Gradually he found his natural voice, a style which appears personal, even chatty, but which is really carefully thought out and precise.
By the end of the 1920s, as Susan Cooper observed, Priestley was “writing as well in [essay] form as any man alive and a great many dead”. His journalism, his broadcasts, and much of his non-fiction – in fact, many of his finest works – have the same mix of precision and personality as his essays. Priestley wrote in essay form to share what delighted him; to reflect on society, culture and politics; to publicise his opinions – and sometimes to have a good grumble.
It is therefore a joy to report that a new collection of Priestley’s essays is about to appear in print, under the excellent title, Grumbling at Large. The volume should be a Delight to own and to read, as its publisher, Notting Hill Editions, specialises in essays and pays great attention to design, typography etc. I love their typographic covers!
But how to condense a lifetime of miniature gems into one slim volume? The editor, Valerie Grove, has had a difficult task. I’ll be keen to see if my favourites (“Gin and Tonic” and “Quietly Malicious Chairmanship“) have made it in!
Quotations from Margin Released and J.B. Priestley: portrait of an author.
What was life like for people living in Bradford during the First World War? How did they cope with the challenges of “long working hours, restricted opportunities for recreation and relaxation, … darkened streets, the increased cost of living and the rigid economy“*?
In her new book, Bradford: remembering 1914-1918, published today, local researcher Kathryn Hughes discusses these questions in the light of new discoveries in Bradford archives. I am very much looking forward to reading it!
*Bradford Sanitary Association Annual Report 1915, quoted by Dr Hughes on the Bradford WW1 website.
Dr Munro Price, of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, has published a book which explores the downfall of Napoleon. Napoleon: the end of glory. Oxford University Press, 2014. Using a remarkable range of under-explored European archive sources, Dr Price shows us how and why Napoleon failed to compromise with his enemies in the period immediately before his first exile. Contrary to popular belief, Waterloo was just a postscript to a career that had already failed. I won’t summarise all Dr Price’s arguments: you need to read the book for those & it well repays a read.
Beautifully produced and very well priced for an academic work, this book would make a lovely Christmas gift for anyone interested in military history, politics or reconciliation/peace studies …
Special Collections will be closed for the Easter Break from Friday 29 March-Tuesday 2 April inclusive. We’re thrilled that J.B. Priestley features at the Bradford Eastercon on the Saturday. In honour of which, here is a detail from the wonderful dustjacket of Priestley’s uncorrected proof copy of Of Time and Stars: the worlds of Arthur C. Clarke (for which Priestley wrote the introduction).
Our reproduction doesn’t do justice to the amazingly purple, pink, orange and yellow original, which also (I think) introduces Clarke’s stories very well as does JBP’s typically quirky and personal introduction.
Whether you’re going to Eastercon or not, we wish you a very happy Easter!
Posted in Bradford, Literature, Priestley, J.B., Service News and Updates
Tagged 1970s, Arthur C. Clarke, Books, Easter, Eastercon, J.B. Priestley, Science Fiction, Special Collections
Introducing Priestley SpecFic
J.B. Priestley was fascinated by the possibilities of time, space, dreams and the fantastic or weird. Alongside the famous time plays, he used these ideas in TV scripts, essays, short stories and novels, ranging from Snoggle, a charming tale of a friendly alien, to the terrifying nuclear war scenario of Level 7. This spring, a convention and a publisher celebrate Priestley’s speculative fiction.
Ghost of Honour
Detail from dustjacket of Benighted by J.B. Priestley (Heinemann)
Priestley will be “Ghost of Honour” at this year’s Eastercon: Eightsquared, in Bradford over the Easter weekend, featuring a lecture by Lee Hanson, Chair of the J.B. Priestley Society. As the Eastercon blog says, “[Priestley’s] quietly durable work is well worth a fresh look as modern literary writers increasingly adopt SF ideas and themes. Priestley was doing that decades ago, as well as using elements of the fantastic to address political and social debates …”
Back to the Old Dark House
Detail from cover of The Other Place, by J.B. Priestley (Corgi)
Valancourt Books are issuing two classics of the weird by Priestley: Benighted, the tale of travellers benighted at an “old dark house”, which became a horror classic in its film form, and The Other Place, disquieting short stories, including “The Grey Ones” and “Uncle Phil on TV”.
Delighted to announce that Jacquetta Hawkes’ masterpiece, A Land, which fuses archaeology and geology into a personal exploration of England’s deep past, will soon be back in print. It is being reissued in the Collins Nature Library in June. The new edition is introduced by Robert MacFarlane, who shares his thoughts about the book in this Guardian Review article:
“Ardent and personal, A Land became a bestseller, and one of the defining British non-fiction books of the postwar decade. Sixty years on it reads, fascinatingly, as a missing link in the literature of nature and landscape. It seems both a period piece – as of its year as the Festival of Britain, the Austin A30 and The Goon Show – and Delphically out-of-time in its ecstatic holism.”
Find out more about Jacquetta Hawkes’s amazing life and unique writings on our webpage for her Archive and in this online exhibit on the Celebrating Jacquetta Hawkes blog.
On a recent visit to Special Collections, Bradford Telegraph and Argus journalist Jim Greenhalf was impressed by the scale of the J.B. Priestley Archive and the sheer output of the author himself, as displayed in our huge collection of books by him. Find out more in this article published on 18 April.
If you’d like to experience these things yourself, here’s how to contact Special Collections. To gain an idea of what we have before your visit, all the published books by Priestley appear on our library catalogue and the Archive is listed online through link on this page (as Mr Greenhalf observes, it would take hours to read the Archive Handlist, but it is in sections and searchable to make things easier).