(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In The Good Companions, Priestley perfected a favorite device of throwing together a disparate group of people who attempt to achieve a common goal. He succeeded in his intent to write a long, old-fashioned novel, creating a relaxed, bittersweet tale, told in good humor. His most popular novel, The Good Companions has remained in print since its first publication. Its style and popular success place Priestley alongside the masters of the long English novel, Henry Fielding, Charles Dickens, and William Makepeace Thackeray. It most closely resembles the Victorian style, with its humorous chapter subtitles, for example: “Inigo Jumps Out of a Train and Finds Himself in Love.”

Priestley constructed The Good Companions like a three-act play. In Book One, strangers meet and band together. Mr. Oakroyd is escaping the burden of job and family. Elizabeth Trant is on her own after years of nursing her sick father. Inigo Jollifant is a former schoolteacher with a knack for knocking out a quick tune on the piano. United by a need to flee responsibilities and to find happiness, they befriend a broken-down theatrical troupe called the Dinky Doos.

In Book Two, they set out to tour the provinces with a new name, The Good Companions. The dreams, frustrations, hard work, and joys of the traveling performers are chronicled. Secondary characters are quickly drawn as stereotypes, immediately identifiable as personalities associated...

(The entire section is 447 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jess Oakroyd, a stolid Yorkshireman who is burdened with a nagging wife and sarcastic son, finally decides to pack a small basket of clothes and set off to travel about England. His adventures begin when he gets a ride in a large van loaded with stolen goods. The driver of the van and the driver’s helper leave Jess at an inn in a small hamlet after having robbed him while he was asleep. Rudely awakened by the innkeeper, Jess has no money to buy his breakfast. Setting off afoot, he comes upon another van, in which a man is attempting to repair a battered peddler’s stall. In return for his help, the peddler, who sells fancy balloons, gives Jess breakfast and a ride.

Jess stays with him for three days and then sets out walking again. Within the hour, he comes upon a stalled car and helps the driver, Miss Trant, start the motor. Miss Trant, who has recently inherited several hundred pounds from her father, is thirty-five years old. Since all of her previous adventures were limited to those in historical novels, she decides to travel across England. While Jess works on the car, it begins to rain, so they head for a tearoom nearby. There they meet Inigo Jollifant and his odd-looking companion, who is carrying a banjo. Just like Jess and Miss Trant, Inigo began his adventures on the previous Monday evening.

Inigo was unhappy as an instructor at a boys’ school because of the headmaster’s petty tyranny. He was dismissed after he became drunk and played the piano in celebration of his twenty-sixth birthday. Inigo, too drunk to do the prudent thing and wait for morning, packed a knapsack and immediately set out on his travels. In the railroad station of a small town, he met his banjo-carrying companion, Morton Mitcham, a professional entertainer.

In the tearoom, the shrewish proprietress berates a group of customers who are unable to pay their bill. The banjo player recognizes them as members of a theatrical troupe who are stranded, as they explain, after their manager absconded with their funds and a young woman. On impulse, Miss Trant decides to take over the stranded company. That night, they make plans for taking the show back on the road, and they decide on the name The Good Companions. The troupe is made up of an elderly comedian, a young and pretty musical comedy singer named Susie Dean, Morton Mitcham, a dancer named Jerry Jerningham, a girl singer, and an older couple who sing duets. Miss Trant becomes the manager, Inigo the accompanist, and Jess, at Miss Trant’s insistence, the handyman.

The troupe’s first appearance is in the little town where Miss Trant had found them. The show is not a success, but their second engagement, at a seaside hotel, meets with obvious favor. The most appreciated...

(The entire section is 1124 words.)