Authors: J. B. Priestley

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright

Author Works

Drama:

The Good Companions, pr. 1931 (adaptation of his novel; with Edward Knoblock)

Dangerous Corner, pr., pb. 1932

The Roundabout, pr. 1932

Laburnum Grove, pr. 1933

Eden End, pr., pb. 1934

Cornelius, pr., pb. 1935

Duet in Floodlight, pr., pb. 1935

Bees on the Boat Deck, pr., pb. 1936

Spring Tide, pr., pb. 1936 (with George Billam)

People at Sea, pr., pb. 1937

Time and the Conways, pr., pb. 1937

I Have Been Here Before, pr., pb. 1937

Music at Night, pr. 1938

Mystery at Greenfingers, pr., pb. 1938

When We Are Married, pr., pb. 1938

Johnson over Jordan, pr., pb. 1939

The Long Mirror, pr., pb. 1940

Goodnight, Children, pr., pb. 1942

They Came to a City, pr. 1943, pb. 1944

Desert Highway, pr., pb. 1944

The Golden Fleece, pr. 1944

How Are They at Home?, pr., pb. 1944

An Inspector Calls, pr. 1946

Ever Since Paradise, pr. 1946

The Linden Tree, pr. 1947

The Rose and Crown, pb. 1947 (one act)

The High Toby, pb. 1948 (for puppet theater)

Home Is Tomorrow, pr. 1948

The Plays of J. B. Priestley, pb. 1948-1950 (3 volumes)

Summer Day’s Dream, pr. 1949

Bright Shadow, pr., pb. 1950

Seven Plays of J. B. Priestley, pb. 1950

Dragon’s Mouth, pr., pb. 1952 (with Jacquetta Hawkes)

Treasure on Pelican, pr. 1952

Mother’s Day, pb. 1953 (one act)

Private Rooms, pb. 1953 (one act)

Try It Again, pb. 1953 (one act)

A Glass of Bitter, pb. 1954 (one act)

The White Countess, pr. 1954 (with Hawkes)

The Scandalous Affair of Mr. Kettle and Mrs. Moon, pr., pb. 1955

These Our Actors, pr. 1956

The Glass Cage, pr. 1957

The Pavilion of Masks, pr. 1963

A Severed Head, pr. 1963 (with Iris Murdoch; adaptation of Murdoch’s novel)

An Inspector Calls, and Other Plays, pb. 2001

Long Fiction:

Adam in Moonshine, 1927

Benighted, 1927

Farthing Hall, 1929 (with Hugh Walpole)

The Good Companions, 1929

Angel Pavement, 1930

Faraway, 1932

I’ll Tell You Everything, 1933 (with George Bullett)

Wonder Hero, 1933

They Walk in the City: The Lovers in the Stone Forest, 1936

The Doomsday Men: An Adventure, 1938

Let the People Sing, 1939

Blackout in Gretley: A Story of– and for–Wartime, 1942

Daylight on Saturday: A Novel About an Aircraft Factory, 1943

Three Men in New Suits, 1945

Bright Day, 1946

Jenny Villiers: A Story of the Theatre, 1947

Festival at Farbridge, 1951 (pb. in U.S. as Festival)

Low Notes on a High Level: A Frolic, 1954

The Magicians, 1954

Saturn over the Water: An Account of His Adventures in London, South America, and Australia by Tim Bedford, Painter, Edited with Some Preliminary and Concluding Remarks by Henry Sulgrave and Here Presented to the Reading Public, 1961

The Thirty-first of June: A Tale of True Love, Enterprise, and Progress in the Arthurian and Ad-Atomic Ages, 1961

The Shape of Sleep: A Topical Tale, 1962

Sir Michael and Sir George: A Tale of COMSA and DISCUS and the New Elizabethans, 1964 (also known as Sir Michael and Sir George: A Comedy of New Elizabethans)

Lost Empires: Being Richard Herncastle’s Account of His Life on the Variety Stage from November, 1913, to August, 1914, Together with a Prologue and Epilogue, 1965

Salt Is Leaving, 1966

It’s an Old Country, 1967

The Image Men: “Out of Town” and “London End,” 1968

The Carfitt Crisis, 1975

Found, Lost, Found: Or, The English Way of Life, 1976

My Three Favorite Novels, 1978

Short Fiction:

The Town Major of Miraucourt, 1930

Going Up: Stories and Sketches, 1950

The Other Place, and Other Stories of the Same Sort, 1953

The Carfitt Crisis, and Two Other Stories, 1975

Screenplay:

Last Holiday, 1950

Poetry:

The Chapman of Rhymes, 1918

Nonfiction:

Brief Diversions: Being Tales, Travesties, and Epigrams, 1922

Papers from Lilliput, 1922

I for One, 1923

Figures in Modern Literature, 1924

Fools and Philosophers: A Gallery of Comic Figures from English Literature, 1925 (pb. in U.S. as The English Comic Characters)

George Meredith, 1926

Talking: An Essay, 1926

The English Novel, 1927, 1935, 1974

Open House: A Book of Essays, 1927

Thomas Love Peacock, 1927

Too Many People, and Other Reflections, 1928

Apes and Angels: A Book of Essays, 1928

The Balconinny, and Other Essays, 1929 (pb. in U.S. as The Balconinny, 1931)

English Humour, 1929, 1976

The Lost Generation: An Armistice Day Article, 1932

Self-Selected Essays, 1932

Albert Goes Through, 1933

English Journey: Being a Rambling but Truthful Account of What One Man Saw and Heard and Felt and Thought During a Journey Through England During the Autumn of the Year 1933, 1934

Four-in-Hand, 1934

Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1937 (pb. in U.S. as Midnight on the Desert: Being an Excursion into Autobiography During a Winter in America, 1935-1936, 1937)

Rain upon Godshill: A Further Chapter of Autobiography, 1939

Britain Speaks, 1940

Postscripts, 1940 (radio talks)

Out of the People, 1941

Britain at War, 1942

British Women Go to War, 1943

The Man-Power Story, 1943

Here Are Your Answers, 1944

The New Citizen, 1944

Letter to a Returning Serviceman, 1945

Russian Journey, 1946

The Secret Dream: An Essay on Britain, America, and Russia, 1946

The Arts Under Socialism: Being a Lecture Given to the Fabian Society, with a Postscript on What Government Should Do for the Arts Here and Now, 1947

Theatre Outlook, 1947

Delight, 1949

Journey Down a Rainbow, 1955 (with Jacquetta Hawkes)

All About Ourselves, and Other Essays, 1956

The Writer in a Changing Society, 1956

The Art of the Dramatist: A Lecture Together with Appendices and Discursive Notes, 1957

The Bodley Head Leacock, 1957

Thoughts in the Wilderness, 1957

Topside: Or, The Future of England, a Dialogue, 1958

The Story of Theatre, 1959

Literature and Western Man, 1960

William Hazlitt, 1960

Charles Dickens: A Pictorial Biography, 1962

Margin Released: A Writer’s Reminiscences and Reflections, 1962

The English Comic Characters, 1963

Man and Time, 1964

The Moments, and Other Pieces, 1966

All England Listened: J. B. Priestley’s Wartime Broadcasts, 1968

Essays of Five Decades, 1968 (Susan Cooper, editor)

Trumpets over the Sea: Being a Rambling and Egotistical Account of the London Symphony Orchestra’s Engagement at Daytona Beach, Florida, in July-August, 1967, 1968

The Prince of Pleasure and His Regency, 1811-1820, 1969

Anton Chekhov, 1970

The Edwardians, 1970

Over the Long High Wall: Some Reflections and Speculations on Life, Death, and Time, 1972

Victoria’s Heyday, 1972

The English, 1973

Outcries and Asides, 1974

A Visit to New Zealand, Particular Pleasures: Being a Personal Record of Some Varied Arts and Many Different Artists, 1974

The Happy Dream: An Essay, 1976

Instead of the Trees, 1977 (autobiography)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Snoggle, 1972

Edited Texts:

Essayist Past and Present: A Selection of English Essays, 1925

Tom Moore’s Diary: A Selection, 1925

The Book of Bodley Head Verse, 1926

The Female Spectator: Selections from Mrs. Eliza Heywood’s Periodical, 1744-1746, 1929

Our Nation’s Heritage, 1939

Scenes of London Life, from “Sketches by Boz” by Charles Dickens, 1947

The Best of Leacock, 1957

Four English Novels, 1960

Four English Biographies, 1961

Adventures in English Literature, 1963

An Everyman Anthology, 1966

Biography

John Boynton Priestley, the prolific author of nearly two hundred volumes of essays, novels, and plays, is twentieth century Great Britain’s best example of the writer as a down-to-earth, no-nonsense professional. He began his career hoping to become a man of letters in the eighteenth century fashion, exploring any subject that interested him in whatever genre struck him as most suitable. Eventually he regretted having written so much, understanding that critics sometimes ignore the too-industrious writer as they champion instead the slimmer output of more predictable writers who repeat themselves in a single literary vein.{$I[AN]9810000953}{$I[A]Priestley, J. B.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Priestley, J. B.}{$I[tim]1894;Priestley, J. B.}

J. B. Priestley

(Library of Congress)

Born in Bradford, the wool-merchandizing hub of northern England, Priestley was reared by a socialist schoolmaster father and a kindly stepmother in an environment that encouraged an interest in the arts. He took advantage of the town’s theaters, music halls, and libraries–resources which offered him artistic and intellectual stimulation of the highest order then available in England before World War I. The proximity of Bradford to the Yorkshire Dales, an area of extraordinary beauty, awakened in him an interest in nature as well. After leaving school, he became a clerk in the wool trade but in fact spent most of his time writing pieces on widely varying subjects for the local papers and even some London magazines.

An idyllic existence in what Priestley later remembered as a golden world came to an end with the war. Enlisting at age twenty, he was wounded in France and later gassed. Although the war itself does not figure in his writing, its horror remained with him all of his life; he mourned his countrymen’s disparaging of their former values and ideals. He aimed his work at reminding Englishmen of what they once had been and what they yet could be, were they to work in harmony, in community, in building a better world.

That work began in earnest after the war and three years at the University of Cambridge, when Priestley moved to London and became a writer for various newspapers and periodicals and a reader for a publishing firm. He augmented the income by which he cared for his growing family by publishing books of essays and literary criticism. While he was making his mark as a writer, he was by no means financially secure. Security, modest wealth in fact, came his way when he tried his hand at the novel. His fourth novel, The Good Companions, was Priestley’s breakthrough; it is an affectionate look at a band of not-too-accomplished performers making the rounds of provincial music halls who come to realize that a changing world is no longer receptive to the innocent fare they offer. It became a runaway best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic and, translated into many languages, established Priestley’s reputation around the world. He followed The Good Companions with even more ambitious works, darker in tone and peopled with extraordinary characters–idealistic heroes and heroines, sinister confidence men, comic grotesques–like those of Charles Dickens. A number of well-received novels followed.

The success of his novels enabled Priestley to enter the more precarious world of the theater, to which he had been attracted as a youth when he had contemplated a career as an actor. After learning the dramatist’s craft by collaborating on a stage adaptation of The Good Companions, Priestley wrote a soundly structured play by himself. Dangerous Corner initially drew tepid reviews but became an enormous success once it was championed by James Agate, the most influential drama critic of the day. Priestley himself later surmised that there was no playhouse in the entire world that had not housed a production of his first play. Despite its lack of depth and its perfunctory characterization, the highly diverting piece about some young people involved in at times unpleasant, even sordid relationships, suggested the directions his later plays would take. Dangerous Corner makes clear that persons who act irresponsibly in their own interests can accomplish nothing, that only those who are honest with one another, who support one another as they work in harmony, can make life truly worthwhile. Priestley gave the unhappy characters of Dangerous Corner the opportunity to try again, to rebuild their world, by ending the play with a time shift, an end that becomes a new beginning. The play demonstrated for the first time Priestley’s abiding interest in time theories, which would become the basis of some of his better, later plays.

Priestley’s best and most lasting work for the theater revealed his affinity for the work of Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov. Eden End, which takes place just before World War I, and The Linden Tree, set shortly after World War II, both deal, as does Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (1904), with a society in flux. The weaker will be unable to make the transition to a new era; the hearty and courageous will adjust, even triumph. Even more significant in jarring an ultraconservative British theater out of its complacency were the innovative, expressionistic plays Music at Night (first published in Three Plays in 1943) and Johnson over Jordan. In the former, a group of disparate characters come together as all humankind in a Jungian ritual bonding as they listen to the first performance of a piece of music. In the latter an English Everyman reexamines his wasted life after his death. In a journey outside time, outside space, he laments his lost joys and wasted opportunities and comes at last to a recognition of the ultimate worth of humankind.

Early in his career as a dramatist Priestley had solved the problems he had encountered in the sometimes uneasy relationships with directors and actors by forming his own production company. Eventually he decided to abandon a changing theater which was beginning to attract audiences out of touch with his own ideals. The brief essays and short fiction works such as “The Carfitt Crisis,” as well as social documents such as The Edwardians and a last volume of autobiography, were gentler forms for the aging Priestley. Active until the brief illness that caused his death in 1984, he would have been more pleased could he have known that his popularity would survive him. Priestley’s novels are widely read in Great Britain, the nation that sometimes disappointed him but never lost his love, and his plays are frequently revived in theaters throughout the country as well as in London’s West End.

BibliographyAtkins, John. J. B. Priestley: The Last of the Sages. New York: Riverrun Press, 1981. Describes Priestley’s development as essayist, critic, novelist, dramatist, autobiographer, social commentator, historian, and travel writer. The book is most useful on the political, social, and economic background of the late 1920’s and 1930’s, the period of Priestley’s first three mystery novels.Brome, Vincent. J. B. Priestley. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988. Brome offers an affectionate but candid portrait of the writer in public and private life. Argues that the prolific writer has been denied his proper niche by critics who do not deal fairly with those who write for a wide, general audience.Cook, Judith. Priestley. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. Cook provides a biography of Priestley, examining both his prose and dramatic works. Includes a bibliography and an index.DeVitis, A. A., and Albert E. Kalson. J. B. Priestley. Boston: Twayne, 1980. After a biographical chapter that includes a discussion of Priestley’s time theories, the book divides into two sections, the first half dealing with Priestley as novelist, the second half dealing with Priestley as dramatist. All Priestley’s works in the two genres are discussed, the more significant ones in some detail. Includes a chronology of the important events in Priestley’s life and a useful bibliography.Gray, Dulcie. J. B. Priestley. Stroud, Gloustershire, England: Sutton, 2000. This volume in the Sutton Pocket Biographies series provides a concise look at Priestley’s life and many works. Includes a bibliography.Klein, Holger. J. B. Priestley’s Fiction. New York: P. Lang, 2002. Massive, eight-hundred-page study of Priestley’s entire fictional output, including all of his mystery novels. Bibliographic references and index.
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