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

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.


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.


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!

Just Catalogued! Willie Riley and the story of Windyridge

Willie Riley

Willie Riley circa 1900

We are delighted to announce that the Archive of Willie Riley is now catalogued and available to readers. The Archive is rich in detail about 19th and 20th century Bradford and district, Lancashire, Methodism, and the life of a professional author.  We have already seen glimpses of the stories it has to tell e.g. Three Yorkshire Romances, Sweet Memories of Chamonix.

Willie Riley was born in Bradford in 1866.  After a business career involving wool and magic lanterns in particular, he turned to authorship, writing the delightful Yorkshire tale Windyridge to entertain friends who had recently been bereaved.  It was a great best-seller, leaving its traces in the names of houses across Yorkshire.  Riley followed it up with over 30 other books, characterised by his love of Yorkshire, his ability to tell a good story, and his religious faith.  He lived in Silverdale, Lancashire for the latter part of his life: he died in 1961.   He fell out of fashion recently and was almost forgotten even in Yorkshire.  However he is now being revived and Windyridge is back in print!

The Archive catalogue and more information about Riley can be found on the Archive webpage.  The website created by Riley fan and scholar David Copeland is also packed with useful detail about this intriguing writer.

Sadly a few items in the Archive were badly water damaged during their history and are too fragile to make available without further treatment.  But everything else is freely available … please contact us if you would like to use it.

Priestley goes to the Parody Party

Parody Party

Parody Party

Here’s an interesting bit of Priestleiana I hadn’t seen before.  Parody Party (Hutchinson, 1936) is a collection of parodies of popular authors by other well-known authors, edited by Leonard Russell, and featuring illustrations by Nicolas “Clerihew” Bentley.

J.B. Priestley is one of the authors parodied, in a piece called “Eden Week-end: after you Mr J. B. Pr**stley” by A. G. MacDonell.

MacDonell was a satirical writer and journalist.  His most famous work was England, their England (1933), a Scotsman’s view of the English including a very funny cricket match.  MacDonell was himself parodied in the piece immediately following his Priestley one, in which an Inca prince endures English dinner parties and golf.

The Priestley parody is very affectionate and reveals that MacDonell knew J.B.’s works well.  It is dominated by The Good Companions and Angel Pavement, with elements from the time plays.  The parody tells the story of a weekend at Tunnicliffe Towers, home of the mill-owning Wainwright family, in the “woolly” valley of the Kilner.  At the climax, the Staffordshire-born butler, Mr Arnold, turns out to be from Yorkshire, to the delight of everyone else, and fulfils his dreams of acting fame.

MacDonell parodies J.B.’s theatrical interests and reflections on time and the meaning of life …

“Life, after all, is only a tragi-comedy, and who can blame Mr Arnold for longing so desperately to play his part among the puppets of grease-pot and cold-cream, as well as among the puppets of reality that we almost all are”.

His way of looking at commerce …

“The managing director of the firm lived in London, but he knew his job.  He might be a hard man, and a ruthless man, but he could tell a badly groined saucepan a score of yards away, and when he did it meant trouble on Humberside.”

And J.B.’s evocations of the richness of Yorkshire dialect, life and customs …

“Young James, the handsome first valet, whose grand-uncle had owned Susan Oglethorpe, the finest brindled bitch-whippet that ever coursed a hare across Sutcliffe Fell.  She was by Bolton Abbot out of Fishcake …”.

We don’t yet have a copy of this book in Special Collections.  I borrowed this one from a colleague!  We will certainly acquire one in the future.

Images of the Month: Three Yorkshire Romances

For Valentine’s Day, a trio of Yorkshire novels with bittersweet love stories at their heart.  Caution … spoilers!

Love on the Stage

Lost Empires

Lost Empires

This cover for a 1965 Popular Library paperback reprint of J.B. Priestley’s Lost Empires seems all wrong.  The novel is set in the music-hall world of 1913!  However,  more by accident than design (I doubt the designer read the book), the cover conveys a deeper truth about the story.  Like many of Priestley’s novels, which draw on the picaresque comic English tradition, it shows a young man – Richard Herncastle – facing difficulties but discovering wisdom, and love with the right woman. Lost Empires is more than a cosy nostalgia-fest though: the music-hall world is glittering, but sordid, and the hero faces betrayal and unhappiness.  Over it all is our knowledge, and Priestley’s, of the shadow of the Great War.

(The jacket refers to a major motion picture, which did not happen, but the 1986 Granada TV series was a wonderful adaptation, starring Colin Firth as Richard).

Love in the Dales

Olive of Sylcote

Olive of Sylcote

W. Riley’s delightful Yorkshire tales often feature romantic problems, which are happily resolved.  Here we meet Olive, who lives in Sylcote, a village in Nidderdale.  She looks rather glam, and is described as “a goddess come down to earth in the likeness of woman … she looked very cool and sweet”. Olive is torn between John, “a simple big-hearted fellow of her own county”, and Gordon, “a man from the town, with all the town’s allurements”.   I think we can guess how this will end, but the journey is interesting.  There is lots of detail about life in the Dales and insight into the Methodism that was so important to Riley.

Special Collections has copies of all Riley’s books, and his Archive.  We are helping to encourage interest in this long-neglected writer.  His first and most famous book, Windyridge, was recently reprinted – a delightful read.

Love and the Looms

The Price of Adventure by William Holt

The Price of Adventure by William Holt

The Price of Adventure (1934), by William Holt, is set in the Calder Valley in “Luddenbridge”.  It tells the story of the restless weaver Jack Coates, how he finds his way in life, and his relationship with Victoria Marle.  The striking cover design, I think, relates to the couple’s (platonic) running away together to Spain, which contrasts with the milltown setting of the rest of the book.

Special Collections has (as far as I know) nothing else about this intriguing Communist writer and artist, who apparently had many different jobs, founded a mobile library, and was filmed in later life travelling round Europe on a rescue horse called Trigger .  A flavour of his extraordinary life can be found on his  Wikipedia entry.  He seems to be well remembered as a local character in Hebden Bridge and Todmorden.