Critical Evaluation

The Good Companions is best described as a comic or romantic picaresque novel, although some commentators complain that, technically, it is not. J. B. Priestley’s characters are not rogues, vagabonds, or rascals but simply an unlikely collection of individuals who join together to fight life’s battles while wandering, trying make a success of a Pierrot troupe called The Good Companions. In this, his fourth novel, Priestley perfects one of his favorite devices, that of uniting a disparate group through a common goal. In describing the struggles of his characters, Priestley develops his theme that individual fulfillment results from helping others. They learn the importance of community, the individual’s responsibility to others, and the lesson that happiness can be found only in the heart.

As a novelist, Priestley is difficult to categorize because he never was identified with a particular literary movement. He enjoyed the technical challenge of writing in various genres and styles. In The Good Companions, he succeeds in writing an old-fashioned novel that most closely resembles the Victorian style, including such outward trappings as humorous chapter subtitles such as “In Which Colonel Trant’s Daughter Goes into Action, Sticks to Her Guns, and May Be Considered Victorious.” The novel’s style and popular success placed Priestley in the company of such masters of the traditional long English novel as Henry Fielding, Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackeray.

In order to negotiate successfully the challenges of writing a novel twice the length of the usual British novel of its day, Priestley hit upon the device of constructing The Good Companions like a three-act play. In book 1, strangers meet and band together. In book 2, they set out to tour the provinces together, and there follows the chronicle of their dreams, frustrations, hard work, joys, and sorrows. In book 3, the inevitable demise of The Good Companions occurs and members of the troupe disperse. An epilogue concludes the novel, addressing “Those Who Insist Upon Having All the Latest News.”

In The Good...

(The entire section is 881 words.)