Form and Content (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
Along with Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and David Hare, John Osborne is one of the most influential English playwrights of the period following World War II. With Look Back in Anger (1956), he is credited with revolutionizing the English theater. Jimmy Porter, the play’s antihero, spews out an endless torrent of venom against his wife, her family and friends, and society in general. The success of Look Back in Anger is said to have rudely awakened a somnolent British stage dominated by tepid drawing-room dramas and paved the way for a new realism and a series of working-class protagonists in English plays, novels, and films. Osborne is often described as the leader of the “angry young men” who created these works. His other major plays include The Entertainer (1957), dealing with the life of Archie Rice, a failing music-hall comedian; Luther (1961), a biographical treatment of Martin Luther, a different variety of angry young man; and Inadmissible Evidence (1964), a portrait of self-destructive attorney Bill Maitland. Osborne has also written plays for television and won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Tom Jones (1963), based on Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel. His career has been the most controversial of any playwright of his generation, primarily because of the vituperation expressed by his characters.
A Better Class of Person explains the sources of much of Osborne’s anger....
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A Better Class of Person (Magill's Literary Annual 1982)
When John Osborne was very young, his maternal grandfather, flushed with port, used to predict that young John would become either the Prime Minister of England or the next George Bernard Shaw. Whether there could ever be a second Shaw is perhaps a question for debate at literary cocktail parties, but John Osborne has come much closer to the second possibility than the first. It must be admitted that from most of the details and incidents of this autobiography, it would be difficult to see what the grandfather based either prediction upon; though the book is entertaining and immensely fascinating, it does in fact tell little directly about the making of a playwright. Partly this is so because the book only covers Osborne’s life from his birth in 1929 to the acceptance for production of Look Back in Anger in 1955.
Only toward the end of A Better Class of Person, as the opening night of Look Back in Anger approaches, is the reader more than occasionally reminded that this is the autobiography of a “famous” person. One may initially be attracted to the book because it is by John Osborne, now a famous playwright and the leader (however unwillingly) of that group of British writers known as the Angry Young Men, but it is the main virtue of this work that it can stand on its own as a record of a portion of a human life. It would seem to be a practical test of the essential quality of any autobiography if one comes to accept it...
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: Nonfiction Series)
Sources for Further Study
Economist. CCLXXXI, November 14, 1981, p. 114.
Ferrar, H. John Osborne, 1973.
Goldstone, Herbert. Coping with Vulnerability: The Achievement of John Osborne, 1982.
Guardian Weekly. CXXV, October 25, 1981, p. 22.
Hare, David. “Opportunities for Blasting Off,” in New Statesman. CII (October 16, 1981), pp. 23-24.
Hinchliffe, Arnold P. John Osborne, 1984.
Lahr, John. “The Dramatic Lives of Two Playwrights,” in The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI (November 8, 1981), pp. 1, 30, 32.
Library Journal. CVI, November 1, 1981, p. 2151.
Observer. October 11, 1981, p. 32.
Times Literary Supplement. October 16, 1981, p. 1190.
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