Authors: David Storey

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright and novelist


David Malcolm Storey is renowned as both a novelist and a playwright. His works are awaited in Great Britain as major statements on his times by a writer whom many consider to be the best of his generation. Born the third son of a coal miner, Storey was reared on a large urban housing estate in the provincial north of England. His life was complicated from the first by the fact that an elder brother died before his birth, leaving his mother in the grips of a suicidal grief. (Another brother, Anthony, is a minor novelist known for his melodramatic mixing of theology and eroticism.){$I[AN]9810000759}{$I[A]Storey, David}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Storey, David}{$I[tim]1933;Storey, David}

The young Storey’s sense of being an outsider was exacerbated by his being educated out of his class at Wakefield’s Queen Elizabeth Grammar School and by his decision, at age seventeen, to become an artist. This determination involved him in a class and family struggle. Two years at Wakefield College of Art were made more desolate by his teachers’ pressuring him to become a commercial artist. Next, disappointed by his failure to train for a professional life, his parents refused to sign his application form to the Slade School of Fine Art in London. Then, in order to support himself fully while in school, Storey played professionally for Leeds Rugby League Club for four seasons. In a 1982 interview he commented on the psychological strain of living in two opposing worlds: “When I played football the other players thought I was homosexual, and at the Slade, they thought I was a yob [hooligan].” Storey’s move to London was final; his marriage to Barbara Rudd Hamilton in 1956 produced two sons and two daughters. His painting won for him several prizes, but it was to writing that Storey dedicated himself after leaving art school.

Storey’s Leeds experiences are evident in This Sporting Life, the story of professional rugby footballer Arthur Machin’s tender but abortive affair with his downtrodden landlady, and his discovery that material “success” (as defined by both the working and the middle classes of England in the newly prosperous late 1950’s) cannot bring a sense of wholeness of belonging. The novel was the eighth that Storey had written (he has continued to write far more than he publishes) and went the rounds of more than a dozen publishers over a four-year period before it was finally accepted. Similarly, Storey’s first play, The Restoration of Arthur Middleton, was written nine years before its first production. The difficulties of Storey’s early years ended when in 1960 This Sporting Life won for him the Macmillan Fiction Award, the icing on the cake of widespread critical acclaim. Numerous other awards have included Great Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker-McConnell Prize, for his autobiographical Saville in 1976. Awards for his dramas, above all The Contractor, Home (set in an insane asylum), and The Changing Room, have included the Evening Standard Award in 1967, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1971, 1973, and 1974.

This Sporting Life also led to an intense and fruitful working friendship with film and play director Lindsay Anderson, for whom Storey wrote screen versions of both his first novel and his play In Celebration, in which three “successful” sons briefly return home to their working-class family. (A Prodigal Child is one of Storey’s later explorations of this autobiographical theme of the return.) In Celebration exemplifies how Storey’s work balances on a knife-edge between black melodrama and stoic satire: The film, he has said, “came out as very remorseless, . . . whereas the audiences always laughed heartily at the live production.” (Mother’s Day, by way of analogy, is a farce about incest.) Over the course of his career, Storey has moved away from the schematizing and allegorizing of his first three novels toward letting his material dictate his form. His hugely ambitious third novel, Radcliffe (compared by critics to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, 1847; though also condemned as morbid gothic fantasy), had been predicated on what Storey sees as the original sin of decadent Western society–the division between soul and body, which in Radcliffe is paralleled by the division between an enfeebled upper class and a vigorous but philistine lower class, figured in the destructive homosexual relationship of Leonard Radcliffe and “Vic” Tolson, a working-class giant drawn with demoniac energy. A similar decadence of society breeds the breakdowns of the central characters in Pasmore and A Temporary Life.

Storey’s plays, unlike his novels, are loosely plotted, poetic evocations of situations and relationships, far more psychological in method and intent than the novels, although frequently intimately related to them: The Contractor, for example, dramatizes and expands one episode from Radcliffe, the erecting of a huge show marquee for a wedding; The Changing Room picks up on the last scene of This Sporting Life (a climactic rugby match), focusing on what Storey has called the “rituals” of men gathered into groups, where their individual personalities, as well as their clothes, may undergo “change”; In Celebration dramatizes psychological material Storey decided mostly to leave out of Saville and was written during a period when work on the novel had ground to a halt.

Storey’s slowly written novels and his swiftly written plays also share a quality of distance: The dialogue of both often has a very British quality of unemotional understatement, difficult to read for some Americans; indeed, all communication in Home takes place in evasive euphemisms. A similar distance informs Storey’s use of autobiographical material: Clearly, his work depends on it, but his imagination transforms it. Finally, both plays and novels are powerfully visual. Storey has said that he envisages his plays as moving paintings, with the proscenium arch as a “picture frame.” Similarly, much of the enormous and disturbing energy of his novels is stored in their imagery and descriptions: Landscapes can become Kafkaesque states of mind.

BibliographyHutchings, William. The Plays of David Storey: A Thematic Study. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. The first full-length study devoted solely to Storey’s work for the theater, Hutchings’s valuable book provides detailed critical analyses of each drama. Hutchings sees Storey as stressing the importance of physical work and daily rituals to help the individual achieve a sense of community in a modern society that has been radically desacralized by industrialism and technology. Contains an extensive bibliography.Hutchings, William, ed. David Storey: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1992. The essays on Storey’s plays concern the role of the artist, the depiction of women, the relationship between family and madness, and the use of comedy. Hutchings provides an introduction, a chronology, and an extensive bibliography dealing with Storey’s dramas. One of the only collections devoted exclusively to Storey’s dramatic output.Kerensky, Oleg. The New British Drama: Fourteen Playwrights Since Osborne and Pinter. New York: Taplinger, 1977. Kerensky focuses on the conflict between working-class parents and well-educated middle-class sons in Storey’s plays, wherein fidelity to naturalistic detail often takes precedence over plot. He devotes his lengthiest comments to Mother’s Day, Storey’s negatively reviewed farce about English domestic life.Liebman, Herbert. The Dramatic Art of David Storey: The Journey of a Playwright. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Liebman provides some biographical information, comments on the ties between Storey’s novels and his films, and groups the plays into three categories for purposes of analysis: plays of madness, plays of work, and family plays. He also provides a selected bibliography.Quigley, Austin E. “The Emblematic Structure and Setting of David Storey’s Plays.” Modern Drama 22, no. 3 (1979): 259-276. In response to conflicting assessments over whether Storey should be regarded as a traditional or an experimental playwright, Quigley probes the basis for Storey’s originality as a dramatist. He proposes that it rests in his uncanny ability to reconceive conventional theatrical devices as “structuring images” that contain the plays’ themes.Randall, Phyllis R. “Division and Unity in David Storey.” In Essays on Contemporary British Drama, edited by Hedwig Bock and Albert Wertheim. Munich: Max Hueber Verlag, 1981. Randall sees as major themes in Storey’s writing the disintegration of both the individual and the family or social unit, and “the struggle to make life work on both the external and internal levels.” The dramas, she argues, accept the impossibility of full integration, often ironically undercutting the spiritual values. Concludes with a useful chart indicating the interrelationships between Storey’s novels and plays.Taylor, John Russell. David Storey. London: Longman, 1974. This pamphlet, written by one of the principal authorities on contemporary British drama as part of the British council’s Writers and Their Work series, charts the connections between Storey’s novels and plays up through 1973. Taylor emphasizes the tension between the physical and the spiritual in the fiction and the blending of realistic with symbolic or allegorical levels in the dramas. Includes a photograph of Storey as a frontispiece.Worth, Katharine J. Revolutions in Modern English Drama. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1972. In brief yet sensitive remarks, Worth explores Storey’s use of physical objects as a focal point and his expert handling of space (stage space in The Contractor and screen space in the television adaptation of Home). Worth believes that audiences relish the process through which space is transformed, and the characters too, as they participate in fleeting moments of communion.
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