A Better Class of Person Critical Context - Essay

John Osborne

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Osborne’s autobiography is an important document in theatrical history for displaying the sources of many of the characters, situations, themes, and attitudes in his plays, revealing them to be more personal than political or literary. The anger, disillusionment, failure, and despair of Jimmy Porter, Archie Rice, and Bill Maitland clearly result from their creator’s chaotic upbringing.

A Better Class of Person is perhaps the most significant autobiography of a playwright in illuminating his art. According to John Lahr, the biographer of Joe Orton, “as a dissection of English life and the origins of his own volatile temperament, the book surpasses Coward’s Present Indicative [1937] as the most vivid chronicle of the making of an English playwright.” It also fulfills Osborne’s unrealized ambitions as an actor since it allows him to perform center stage. It is a fitting memoir for the creator of obnoxious Jimmy Porter, because it displays, in the words of David Hare, “the pleasures of Being Rude.” A familiarity with Osborne’s plays is not necessary to find fascinating this account of growing up unloved in working-class Great Britain.