David Storey Essay - Storey, David (Vol. 2)

Storey, David (Vol. 2)

Storey, David 1933–

A British novelist and playwright, Storey is best known for his novel (and screenplay) This Sporting Life and for his play Home.

David Storey, [a] young novelist for whom class issues are centrally significant and whose work illustrates a fairly typical approach to the problems of class, [often] uses parents to demonstrate older social attitudes that no longer fit the facts of experience….

Storey … [in his novels, This Sporting Life and Flight into Camden, is] objecting, not to education itself, but to the aura of value which accrues about the term for people who have never experienced the fact. [He is] objecting, as other contemporary writers object, to vague ideals, vague aspirations, notions of something higher or finer that vaguely cling to certain terms for the older generation. The parents, in [his work], believe in slogans, remnants of another era in which the vague appeal might have had a stronger connection to the facts of experience than it does today. The younger generation, on the other hand, sees through the slogans and the vague ideals, attempts to deal with experience as directly and as individually as it possibly can. Education, in fact, acts to break down the vague ideal, to demonstrate the multiple facts of individual and social experience which cannot easily or accurately be summarized by a slogan or an ideal. To a great extent, education has helped to underline the conflict between the generations….

The heroes and the heroines of novels such as those by Storey … are frequently young people attempting to get beyond the simple class designation into which they were born. They begin by refusing to be limited by class or background, hoping to find a world with fewer fetters, fewer distinguishing marks. As educated people in the middle of the twentieth century, they are willing to start by ignoring their parents' sound precepts and trying to look at experience without preconception. Yet all of them, to some extent, carry the attitudes of the class they come from…. Class is, for those people, a constant and unconscious point of view, a framework, whether they explicitly object to it or not, underneath all their perceptions. They become particularly self-conscious and aware of class whenever they attempt to engage in the larger society….

In the work of David Storey, as in the work of numerous other contemporaries, the identification with class, trivial and difficult as it often is, emerges as a solid value. The heroes and the heroines do not completely return to the ways of their parents, for they have seen the modern world more clearly, but they do recognize that they cannot abandon what they've been born and brought up with.

James Gindin, in his Postwar British Fiction: New Accents and Attitudes (originally published by the University of California Press; reprinted by permission of The Regents of the University of California) University of California Press, 1962, pp. 91-3, 100-02.

Mr. Storey has composed a comedy ["Home"] upon a tragic theme, and the grace and warmth—to say nothing of the formidable technical skill—of its composition insure that although the subject matter is grim, the action of the play transcends the merely depressing to the point where it becomes, in an uncanny fashion, humorous. We are prompted to laugh, never without compassion, in the presence of what is obviously an intolerable misery of body and spirit. Why do we laugh? Because Mr. Storey is an artist, and takes far too serious a view of life to be content with the frivolities of making us weep. Not the least taint of sentimentality stains his unfinished, seemingly vagrant, and at last incantatory lines, which amount to a thesaurus of those conventional usages of polite speech by which we disguise our failure to connect with others and conceal from ourselves our awareness of the dreadful end to which we are being hurried against our will.

Brendan Gill, "Only Connect," in The New Yorker, November 28, 1970, pp. 141-42.

[David Storey's Home] is immensely appealing, extremely intelligent in its use of tradition from Coward to Pinter, and subtle in its balance between grand metaphor and a close embrace of reality. The setting of the play, an open esplanade apparently part of a resort, only gradually reveals itself as some kind of "home" for the defeated—the old, the mentally ill—but it is also home in another sense, it is Britain, as Auden called it, "this island where no one is well," and Storey's characters are also meant to epitomize the eroded vitality of Britain and, by extension, Western man…. But none of this is laid on, it grows beautifully out of the created form of the play itself.

Jack Kroll, "Lost Avalon," in Newsweek (copyright Newsweek, Inc. 1972; reprinted by permission), November 30, 1970, p. 98.

Elegiac, autumnal and melancholy though it is, Home is shot through with rueful humor. Playwright Storey subtly draws an ironic parallel between the plight of the two men and the fate of England. The word island recurs: England shorn of empire, reduced to her physical boundaries, but with names and deeds of the past intoned like a faint requiem of glory—Newton, and Sir Walter Raleigh and the discovery of penicillin. The sceptered isle has become a gleamless cinder on the tides of history.

T. E. Kalem, "Duet of Dynasts," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1970 by Time Inc.), November 30, 1970, p. 48.

Now that David Storey has taken on shape and substance for me, I would like to take another look at This Sporting Life. When I saw Lindsay Anderson's 1963 film, for which Storey did the screenplay based on his own novel, it came as just another of those English movies about sad, grimy life in provincial industrial towns … in which the toughness and realism were tinged with sentimentality and soap opera. Since the film was made, Storey, the novelist, has become a playwright, the most impressive one to turn up in the English theater since those early angry days when John Osborne, John Arden and Harold Pinter emerged…. [In Storey's plays, The Contractor and In Celebration, the] potential for sentimentality is still there, but these two plays, again in provincial settings, do not cluck over their characters as This Sporting Life seemed to do. What Storey has done in both instances is to establish a revelatory occasion, gather the characters and set them talking, uncovering in the course of the play the emptiness and pain in the characters and, at the same time, positing their solidarity, the force that sustains them. The means to these two ends are the words the characters speak, apparently random, often funny talk which establishes a stage reality that gives the plays their strength….

On the face of it, Home appears to be a departure for Storey, for in this play he is very much in the Beckett-Pinter tradition. Yet, the jump from the working-class living room of In Celebration to the almost bare stage of Home is not so great as it seems. The action is minimal in the earlier plays—in In Celebration, an offstage anniversary dinner, in The Contractor, the raising and striking of a tent for a wedding that takes place between the acts—and the drama lives in the lines. The occasional rhetoric of the earlier plays gives way in Home to simple sentences—more often fragments—but there is still a family resemblance between this play and the ones that preceded it.

Gerald Weales, "Storey Theater," in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), January 15, 1971, pp. 373-74.

[In] Home, Storey made old age in a mental home his metaphor for the decline and fragmentation of empire…. [In] The Contractor,… Storey uses the raising and striking of a huge tent as the symbol of the rise and fall of national greatness. In a still larger sense, the tent is emblematic of the vanity of human wishes—in art, in politics, in science, in business, in love, in life. As it flaps to the stage floor at the end of the play like a great wounded sea bird, one can almost hear the spectral voice of Ezra Pound: "Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down."…

[Storey is] a playwright who is an impressive successor to Osborne and Pinter. Only rarely does one encounter a deep, possibly a noble soul who regards the eclipse of his civilization and his folk as direr than his own death.

T. E. Kalem, "Laureate of Loss," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © 1971 by Time Inc.), December 27, 1971, p. 55.

David Storey … obviously has strong physical powers and finds the world of Rugby League football exciting and significant, both as symbol and outlet. He cares for individual people…. He has moved from the novel to drama but, rather surprisingly, not so that the action can break out from a narrative framework to some more direct commitment, nor even so that he can more directly convey the violence of the time. For he seems to want to create something more patterned and symbolic than the novel would let him do. His plays do not suggest powerful forces at work in society, or individual characters, but look at small enclosed groups with great reflectiveness, and an almost poetic fidelity to the particular.

Marie Peel, "Violence in Literature," in Books and Bookmen, February, 1972, pp. 20-4.

Interest in David Storey has been strongly charged recently by the success of his play, The Changing Room. There was also a reshowing on television of the film of his first novel, This Sporting Life, as well as a first showing of his next-to-last play, Home. But he is not a writer one thinks of in terms of feeding existing interests and appetites. He is the much rarer, more significant kind—in his novels, that is—who sees and knows ahead with a power that creates its own public, making them recognise deeper aspects of themselves in his work. So I think the current interest expresses our obscure sense that here is a writer who has been doing this for some time, while we are only now catching up. Also The Changing Room strongly suggests to me a catching up by Storey with himself, a return to his beginning at a point of moving on. In a powerfully imagising writer, the title seems expressive of his own position as well as the location for the play….

One usually thinks of drama as more immediate and involving than the novel. For Storey it has worked the other way, possibly offering a kind of therapy, that could distance the disintegrative forces while still letting him look at them. At first, in The Restoration of Arnold Middleton and In Celebration, there are still individual characters and, one feels, some directly autobiographical material. In his last three plays, the play itself becomes an image to hold the passions and obsessions lying behind it, especially the visionary intensity that tilts the whole axis of Radcliffe [Storey's most recent novel]. Home, for instance, seems to me very much a still point emerging from the fierce whirling of that book. At the same time it makes its own statement, a poetic not a dramatic one, to audiences who do not know the novel.

Radcliffe and the demonic life caged in it works itself out in all the plays except The Changing Room, being released in hidden ways in names, incidents, imagery. At times the technique recalls Eliot's patchwork of buried life and allusive quotation as he approaches a necessary faith.

Marie Peel, "David Storey: Demon and Lazarus," in Books and Bookmen, March, 1972, pp. 20-4.

For my money, David Storey's best play so far is The Contractor. His latest, The Changing Room, uses the same sort of dramatic framework. After the erection, offstage climax and detumescence of a marquee for a wedding reception in The Contractor, The Changing Room shows us the assembly, for the weekly game, of a north-country rugby football team, the interval in the offstage game, and the victorious reversion of the players to the scattered commonplaceness of everyday life. The result lacks the wider social resonances of The Contractor; yet it does achieve a tenderly effective lyric metaphor. When it is over one feels one could write short character-sketches of all twenty-two participants, and a passably accurate summary of the sort of world they live in, its grimy, demanding jobs, bleak industrial landscapes and starved culture.

Some disappointed responses have seen the piece as only a documentary; but in my view it is much more than that. Without using a single theatrical device—no rivalries over a girl, no powerful internecine antipathies, no class struggle between the team's wealthy chairman and the wage-slave team, Mr. Storey builds up a sense of contact—and failures of contact—between people quite beyond the scope of a documentary. His last play, Home, was to my mind—though it offered splendid acting parts—a poem in the wrong sense, depending too much upon repeated arabesques of hopelessness; The Changing Room, like The Contractor though in a narrower compass, seems to me a poem in the right sense, leaving behind the same sort of knowledge and feeling as, say, one of Crabbe's Suffolk tales.

J. W. Lambert, in Drama, Spring, 1972, p. 14.

This novel [, Pasmore,] the first from David Storey since Radcliffe in 1963, was apparently much longer and more complex in its original form, but has been quite drastically cut, one assumes at the publishers' request. Given the subject, a mental breakdown, I am not sure whether this is a good thing or not, we can't tell, but certainly the strained complexity of Radcliffe suggested the potentiality of madness very powerfully, whereas Pasmore as we have it is much closer to the becalmed, somewhat sterilised patterning of Home, Storey's play about mental patients. The main effect, I found, was of great sadness.

Pasmore is now a brief uncluttered book, the whole process it describes being the paring away by the central character of what suddenly seem to him extraneous layers of non-being. Ironically this creates painful cluttering in a physical sense through the complete inertia, the nonoperation of will, to which he is reduced. This is not mental breakdown in a psychiatric sense, it is a collapse of psyche. For suddenly the outward pattern of Pasmore's life ceases to correspond to or in any way satisfy his inner being. Yet in this inner being he does not know what he does want, not that is, in any way he can rationally articulate.

Then suddenly, yet with a sure kind of expectedness, his psyche begins to articulate for him, to impel him step by step in certain directions, and it is this 'progress' that the book charts.

Marie Peel, "The Breakdown of Pasmore," in Books and Bookmen, December, 1972, pp. 67-8.

David Storey's play The Changing Room is like a breath of pungent locker-room air. Storey is an Englishman, he is writing about professional Rugby players, but his play brings a human feeling and scale to the subject that transcends national differences….

A great virtue of Storey's play is its wholeness of vision—he sees the players not only as part of a social and economic system, but also as individual humans.

Jack Kroll, "Team of Destiny," in Newsweek (copyright Newsweek, Inc. 1970; reprinted by permission), December 11, 1972, p. 71.

[David Storey's] Pasmore is all too blunt and direct: the reader is told when something happens in a creakingly simple prose. I found it an embarrassingly unsatisfactory piece of writing to come from so talented and intelligent a novelist: nothing is demonstrated, almost everything is explained. The strain of communicating the dull protagonist's distressed state is reflected in the inexactness of the language: 'a sort of restlessness', 'a kind of treachery', a kind of contentment'; I could fill a page with more examples. Pasmore is a book about an alienated man—to use the cant phrase—which refuses, at every turn, to place that alienation in a fully developed fictional setting: the result is that one follows a Condition through its paces, not a human being.

Paul Bailey, in London Magazine, February/March, 1973, p. 158.