Tag Archives: Novels

Priestley, Documentary, Realism and Democracy: conference 25 October

Priestley, Documentary, Realism and Democracy: open one-day conference sponsored by the J.B. Priestley Society.

9.45-17.00 West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds.  25 October 2014.

There is still time to book a place at this fascinating conference, which includes Special Collections staff among the speakers.

PRI8_1_11 27 closeIt is eighty years since the publication of J.B. Priestley’s English Journey . The book influenced a whole generation on its appearance and has since inspired numerous responses and sequels. This conference aims both to do justice to that impact and also to consider wider issues raised by the documentary and social-realistic work of Priestley and his contemporaries in the Thirties and Forties.  Alison Cullingford will introduce delegates to the Heinemann Scrapbook, which shows how the publisher whipped up interest in Priestley’s controversial comments on English cities (image above).  Martin Levy will explore belatedness and Priestley’s social philosophy.  Other speakers will cover aspects of cinema, Orwell, Muir, social fiction and Priestley’s wartime suspense stories.

To find out more and book your place, see the conference mini-website.

Download the Programme.  JBPS 2014 Conference Running Order

Download the Poster.  JBPS_Conference_Poster

Advertisements

Forgotten Pleasures: Sheffield rediscovers Willie Riley

I see that I haven’t yet written about the splendid work being done on the popular fiction of the early 20th century at Sheffield Hallam University.  It’s time to put that right!  SHU has an excellent collection of such works.   This blog by Erica Brown chronicles the rediscovery of these often forgotten gems by a reading group.  There’s lots of overlap with our Special Collections – they’ve even been reading J.B. Priestley!

Recently the group turned their attention to the work of Willie Riley, whose archive we have at Bradford.  Riley is a wonderful example of an author who was a best-seller and a household name, thanks to his delightful debut Windyridge, but whose popularity has waned since.

Willie Riley (ref RIL12_3 p.5)

Willie Riley

Riley is now having a mini-revival, thanks to the efforts of former Bradford University student David Copeland, who has written extensively about Willie, uncovered archives and made many fascinating connections.  On 25 October 2013, David will talk about Willie as part of an event on Yorkshire writers during Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival.  Find out more in this article from Saturday’s Yorkshire Post.

Windyridge Revisited dustjacket

Windyridge Revisited dustjacket – my favourite dustjacket in Special Collections!

A Priestley Primer

“J.B. Priestley – I’ve heard of him, but never read any of his books.  Where should I start?” I’m regularly asked this, so I thought I’d share my usual answers – which I imagine most Priestley enthusiasts would endorse.

Cover of Canadian edition of The Good Companions

Cover of Canadian edition of The Good Companions

With the exception of Margin Released, all these books are currently in print, published by Great Northern Books.  They are also plentiful in the second-hand book trade and often to be found in academic and large public libraries.  I’ve included links to my 100 Objects pieces about each title, which should help you decide which ones you’d like to discover.

Non-fiction

English Journey.  England in the 1930s – rural past, industrial decline and modern future, featuring Priestley’s unforgettable anger at the treatment of Great War veterans and the desolation of poverty.
Delight.  Vignettes of experiences that made Priestley happy, from smoking in the bath to playing tennis badly.
Margin Released.   Interested in Bradford history, the Great War or 20th century literature or film?  You need to read this memoir.

Fiction

Bright DayA bittersweet and reflective book looking back from the uneasy peace of 1946 to vanished 1913 Bradford.
Angel Pavement.   Priestley shows the impact of capitalism on ordinary people in the memorable setting of a vanished London.
Lost Empires.   Love and disillusionment in a vivid music-hall setting, under the shadow of The Great War.
The Good Companions.   Too sentimental for some modern tastes, but on its own terms it is incredibly effective.  Fantastic set-pieces (the football match at the beginning) and a lovely comfort read.

I hope this helps – do let us know which Priestley books you’re reading and what you think of them!  What about the plays?  That’s another story.

Read all these already?  I’ll follow up with some suggestions for the more advanced Priestley reader.

Angel Pavement on Radio 4 this weekend!

J.B. Priestley’s great novel of the City of London and the working lives of Londoners during the Depression, Angel Pavement, will be broadcast on Radio 4 on Sunday 5 May 2013 at 3 pm.  Part 2 will be broadcast on Sunday 12.  I expect it will be available to listen online for some time after the broadcasts.

Appreciating Angel Pavement

One of J.B. Priestley’s finest novels is back in print again!

Cover of Angel Pavement, Great Northern Books

Cover of Angel Pavement, Great Northern Books

J.B. Priestley’s talent for evoking the atmosphere of a city is never better shown than in Angel Pavement, his follow-up to the huge success of The Good Companions.  He brings 1930s London to life for us.  The novel also shows  Priestley’s deep understanding of human nature and organisations and his concern about unfettered capitalism, as he explores the effects of the predatory Mr Golspie on the staff of the struggling veneers company Twigg and Dersingham.

Great Northern Books, who have already reprinted many essential Priestley works, now make this superb novel available in print again.    Find out more on the J.B. Priestley Society website.

Jung, Juvenilia, Theatre and Time: the latest Society Journal

As ever, the latest edition of the J.B. Priestley Society Journal offers new light on many facets of Priestley.

  • Tom Priestley reflects on family history as shown in the 1901 and 1911 censuses.  What was JB’s grandfather’s occupation?
  • Useful reprint of Norah Fienburgh’s 1932 Bradford Pioneer piece on Priestley’s 1913 Round the Hearth series.
  • Priestley turned again and again to the ideas of Jung: both believed in the power of dreams as a creative force: Lee Hanson’s lecture on the relationship between the two usefully summarises Priestley’s explorations of Jung’s often difficult ideas and covers how J.B. and Jacquetta Hawkes used them in Dragon’s Mouth.
  • Alan Day covers the February 1948 British Theatre conference, chaired by Priestley.  Fascinating controversies on the role of theatre managers and insight into the theatre of the time.
  • Rangarao Kulkarni discusses consciousness and time in five of Priestley’s later fictions: The Magicians, Saturn over the Water, The Thirty-first of June, Lost Empires and It’s an Old Country.

The Journal isn’t available online, but is sent in print form to all members of the Society and is available in libraries, including ours of course.

Two Great Novelists: J.B. Priestley and Charles Dickens

J.B. Priestley explained his admiration for Charles Dickens in an article in the magazine Everybody’s, 8 May  1954.  He felt that Dickens’ view of people was child-like: “He saw people, whether they appear as monsters or as enchanting drolls, as children see them.”: his characters, like Micawber or Pickwick, are not “mere caricatures” but have a fairytale power because created by a child’s imagination.

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens a pictorial biography by J.B. Priestley

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens a pictorial biography by J.B. Priestley

Priestley also praised Dickens’s social commitment, savage satire, and “horrible force” when writing about violent crime.  He noted his “extraordinary sensitiveness and delicate perception”, not perhaps qualities always linked with the 19th century author, but as Priestley said, apparent when he wrote from the point of view of David Copperfield or other unhappy children.

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens by J.B. Priestley

Detail of cover of Charles Dickens by J.B. Priestley

However, Priestley could be critical of Dickens.  He felt that the earlier rambling but brilliant poorly plotted works outshone the later ones which were stronger technically.  He also commented on how lop-sided Dickens’ world is, his morality crude, his plotting tedious, his love affairs trite.  Priestley readily admitted skipping dull or embarrassing bits.   For Priestley, it was the larger-than-life characters that made Dickens great, along with his zest for life, his sympathy and his humour, which was “best of all, as good as Shakespeare’s and far better than anybody else’s”.

Understandably given Priestley’s admiration for Dickens, there are many parallels between their works.  Inspired by Dickens and other 18th and 19th century writers, Priestley consciously chose to write broad good-humoured large scale novels: we can see a Dickensian flavour in the picaresque of The Good Companions, the sense of London as a character in Angel Pavement, the grotesques of The Image Men, Priestley’s evoking of the vanished Bradford in Bright Day … The other great parallel is their willingness to speak out about social abuses: Priestley’s great English Journey is as memorable as Dickens’ exposes of the evils of his time.  Dickens crops up again and again in Priestley, as the subject of books and articles and as an inspiration.  If you like Dickens, try Priestley; and if you like Priestley, try Dickens!