Although John Braine was first and foremost a novelist, he also received recognition for his contributions as a television reporter for The Spectator, as a film critic for the Daily Express, and as a book reviewer for The People. His only stage drama, The Desert in the Mirror (pr. 1951), was unsuccessful, but he won two national awards for British television adaptations of his novels: Man at the Top (1970, 1973) and Waiting for Sheila (1976). The seriousness of Braine’s concern with the general problems facing the novelist is clear in his two most significant nonfiction works: Writing a Novel (1974) and J. B. Priestley (1978). In the former, he establishes guidelines for the aspiring novelist and shows how a professional writer who cannot afford to make wrong decisions “manufactures books according both to British and American readers.” In the latter, Braine celebrates the life and career of a man to whom he felt closer than he did to “any other living writer.”
John Braine’s reputation is that of a frank, serious, tough-minded novelist writing from an Irish-Catholic, lower-middle-class background. His experiences in urban, industrialized Bradford, in the rural area of West Riding, and in the upper-middle-class environment of suburban London also figure prominently in his novels. Through all of his novels runs the theme of the stature of the self. He depicts real characters who have allowed their jobs, social positions, material ambitions, class membership, purely physical tendencies, and social and cultural ideals to subvert their essential sensitive and loving selves. His novels belong thematically to a tradition of realistic fiction (associated particularly with England) that tries to find a public significance in personal experience.
Braine’s often vitriolic criticism of English society and the frequently harsh reality of his novels have had a marked influence on contemporary British fiction. This influence began in 1957 when his first novel, Room at the Top, became an instant success and brought him international recognition. Together with Kingsley Amis, Alan Sillitoe, John Osborne, John Wain, and other contemporaries, Braine ushered in with this novel a new generation of writers whose concerns led commentators to identify them as “Angry Young Men”—an epithet suggesting writers of social protest or critics of humankind’s plight in the modern world. Their works shared a commonality of theme and style: a realistic portrayal of working-class or lower-middle-class life in England, a preference for provincial backgrounds, an antihero who directs his protests against the class structure and the welfare state, and an unadorned use of everyday language.
Through his hero, Joe Lampton, Braine made a conspicuous contribution to that gallery of “angries”: Driven by ambition, envy, and greed, Joe possesses no admiration or liking for the class into which he is gate-crashing. He wants its advantages and privileges but not its conventions. Had Room at the Top appeared before Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954) or Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (pr. 1956), Braine’s name might be better known today than those of his contemporaries. Praised for...
Allsop, Kenneth. “The Neutralists.” In The Angry Decade: A Survey of the Cultural Revolt of the Nineteen-Fifties. 1958. Reprint. Wendover, England: John Goodchild, 1985. Considers the works of Kingsley Amis and John Wain before examining Braine’s Room at the Top. Also provides biographical information on Braine and evaluates his goals as a writer.
Carpenter, Humphrey. The Angry Young Men: A Literary Comedy of the 1950’s. London: Allen Lane, 2002. Entertaining book discusses Braine, Kingsley Amis, John Osborne, and the other writers dubbed the Angry Young Men. Carpenter maintains that the supposed movement of angry young men in literature and drama was a creation of the media.
Fjagesund, Peter. “John Braine’s Room at the Top: The Stendhal Connection.” English Studies 80, no. 3 (June, 1999): 247. Points out similarities between Braine’s novel, published in 1957, and Stendhal’s Le Rouge et le noir (1830; The Red and the Black, 1898). Compares the protagonists of the two novels and argues that these men are responding to similar dilemmas within their respective historical periods.
Hewison, Robert. “All the Rage.” New Statesman, January 23, 2006. Presents a historical overview of the Angry Young Men and the cultural revolution they unleashed in Great...