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”.
There’s plenty of good stuff in the latest issue of the J.B. Priestley Society Journal (October 2012, volume 13)
Blue plaque for J.B. Priestley at 34 Mannheim Road, Bradford. The family didn’t move from there straight to Saltburn Place as has traditionally been thought …
- JC Eastwood on Priestley’s family homes in Bradford – clearing up a mystery!
- Professor Maggie Gale of Manchester University on Priestley as a “man of the theatre” – the text of her 2012 Society lecture.
- Priestley’s bibliographer Alan Day on JB’s links with novelist Phyllis Bentley and their opinions of each other’s writings. Alan Day also looks at a series of “short uplift articles” Priestley wrote for Lever Brothers in 1940 as part of a promotion for Sunlight Soap. Fascinating parallels to the Postscripts!
- Trevor Johnson writes about Priestley and Thomas Hardy, in particular the former’s use of Hardy’s poem in the Postscript about the Isle of Wight Volunteers of 16 June 1940.
- Philip Scowcroft surveys music in Priestley’s writings.
There is also a reprint of a Priestley rarity, “The Soul of Revue”, originally published in 1925 and hitherto unknown.
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.
*yet, watch this space!
Posted in Literature, Priestley, J.B., Yorkshire
Tagged Bradford, Drama, J.B. Priestley Society, Journals, Music, Phyllis Bentley, Priestley, Theatre, Thomas Hardy, World War II
One of J.B. Priestley’s finest novels is back in print again!
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.
The revival of J.B. Priestley’s play Cornelius at the Finborough in London has drawn fantastic reviews. This one in particular from Michael Billington in the Guardian is interesting, because it draws attention to a quality of Priestley’s dramatic work which is rarely recognised.
Priestley is often seen as nostalgic and cosy, creating well-crafted but outdated plays about Yorkshire in 1912. Certainly his plays were incredibly well put together and, yes, he was always drawn to the world of his childhood. However, as Billington observes, Priestley was also a “restless experimenter” when it came to drama. He enjoyed the challenge of taking the artform in new directions.
Witness Johnson over Jordan, which traces the journey of a Yorkshire everyman through the Tibetan bardo limbo state, complete with a disturbing Expressionist interlude and a circle of time which restores Johnson’s lost childhood things. The play ends with Johnson walking away from the stage – into what?
Or Dragon’s Mouth, a platform play in which Jung’s ideas take human form and argue about the meaning of life. Or They came to a City: nine different characters find themselves outside the walls of a strange city – a kind of Utopia – which tests and transforms them …
Even his more seemingly conventional plays dissect comfortable hypocrisies (When We Are Married) or explore mysteries of time and meaning (The Linden Tree).
There is a real revival of interest in Priestley’s less well known plays, as directors and actors explore his critiques of society and unfettered capitalism. Special Collections has copies of them all, of course. If you’re interested in seeing these works on stage, a great way to keep in touch with developments is to join the J.B. Priestley Society, whose members are enthusiastic about seeing and sharing information about Priestley’s plays.
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).
Several of J.B. Priestley’s plays, notably An Inspector Calls and the other Time Plays, continue to enthrall and educate modern audiences. But Priestley’s role in the theatre went far beyond writing for the stage.
Professor Maggie Gale will be exploring Priestley’s place in the theory and practice of mid-twentieth century drama in the J.B. Priestley Society Annual Lecture for 2012. This will take place on Saturday 10 March 2012 at 2pm in the JSB Lecture Theatre, Richmond Building, University of Bradford. The event is open to the public. For more information and to book, see the Society’s website. Society members have their AGM in the same venue that morning.