The Good Companions

by J. B. Priestley

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Places Discussed

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Bruddersford. Industrial town of north-central England modeled on Bradford, in which Priestley grew up. The novel opens with an almost cinematic longshot of the Pennine Range, “the knobbly backbone of England,” moves in on the black, windy moors of the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, and then targets Bruddersford in one of the range’s valleys, looking at the town’s tramlines, enormous factories (many now idle), and slimy canals. Bruddersford’s streets are stifling, and in spite of the city center’s Free Library and Imperial Music Hall, life on Jesiah Oakroyd’s Ogden Street is narrow and mean. Jesiah dreams about his beloved married daughter in Canada, and the loss of his job, coupled with a family quarrel, sends him off on the Great North Road.


Hitherton-on-the-Wole. Town in the hills of the Cotswolds in southwestern England, which are not like the Pennines in northern England. Here, the wind is gentle, the scale is smaller, and sunlight turns the stone houses a soft pink. Hitherton-on-the-Wole may be less picturesque than Broadway or Chipping Campden, but it is still a pretty Cotswold village, where thirty-seven-year-old Elizabeth Trant has long tended her elderly father at the hall. His death and her inheritance free her to change direction, and on impulse she buys a small car and embarks on adventure (though her initial plan is only to visit a few cathedral towns, such as Ely).

Washbury Manor School

Washbury Manor School. Redbrick boarding school for boys in East Anglia. Here the land is flat and dreary, crisscrossed by drainage canals that make the fens habitable. Winds blowing down from the North Sea scour the desolate landscape. The school stands near a tiny hamlet, where Inigo Jollifant, a young schoolmaster, labors unhappily. A Cambridge graduate with an undiscovered gift for songwriting, he decides to leave the cheerless classrooms and cabbage-water-smelling precincts of the school to take to the road.

Rawsley Station

Rawsley Station. Small-town depot in which the novel’s principal characters converge—the three outsiders and a theatrical company down on its luck owing to its manager’s having absconded with its funds, leaving the players unpaid. The proprietor of the station’s dismal tearoom behaves harshly, and Miss Trant impulsively takes on the company’s debts and management. Inigo replaces the departed pianist, and Jesiah Oakroyd handles backstage chores.


Sandybay. Second-tier resort town on the east coast in which the troupe enjoys its first big success. Through the autumn the troupe plays a number of small inland cities in various “Winter Gardens, Alfresco Pavilions, Kursaals, Châlets, and Playhouses” from the Rawsley Assembly Rooms to Dotworth, “a one-eyed hole.” Sandybay is a fishing village but big enough to support a pier with a “Pavilion, which looked like an overgrown and neglected greenhouse,” equipped with a real stage, proper lights, curtain, and grand piano.


Winstead. Pleasant market town with a cobblestone square, sophisticated shops, fine churches, gabled houses, and a small playhouse, in which the Good Companions play to responsive audiences.


Haxby. “Hateful” town, dirty, economically depressed, smelly, full of empty failed shopfronts, an example of a community with poor morale and little hope.


Tewborough. Failed industrial town, “a money-making machine that had almost stopped working,” one of the ugliest towns in the Midlands, a place of dust, cobwebs and decay. Among the bleakest stops in the troupe’s travels.


Luddenstall. Provincial Yorkshire town that looks “like a Gas Works all spread out” but is nevertheless the home of appreciative theater-goers. Surrounded by dark, steep, snow-drifted moors and hills netted with tram lines in stony vertical streets, it is a warm and satisfactory place for the company to perform...

(This entire section contains 717 words.)

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at Christmas time.

The Triangle

The Triangle. Nickname for three industrial towns—Gatford, Mundley, and Stort—devoted to automobile manufacturing. The growth of little redbrick suburbs has drawn the three communities into one “Tin Triangle” whose borders are indistinct. Here the company has its greatest success but also comes to its dissolution when a cinema owner whose business has been hurt by live theater pays hooligans to disturb a performance, leading to a riot and fire damage to the Gatford Hippodrome. Miss Trant remains near Gatford and marries a doctor she met years earlier. The other members of the troupe scatter to various real places.


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Atkins, John. J. B. Priestley: The Last of the Sages. New York: Riverrun Press, 1981. In chapter 22, “The Craft of Fiction,” Atkins admires the book’s vigor, observation, humor, and pace, but he finds fault with The Good Companions where others find strength and labels the book a literary phenomenon rather than a masterpiece.

Braine, John. J. B. Priestley. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1978. Chapter 3, “The Crowded Page,” provides an excellent introduction to The Good Companions. Shows how this novel established Priestley’s literary persona, why it did not become dated, and how Priestley combines objective narrative with subjective themes.

Cooper, Susan. J. B. Priestley: Portrait of an Author. London: Heinemann, 1970. Chapter 2, “Professional,” examines Priestley’s ability to delineate character and demonstrate keen insight in even his minor character portraits. Points out Priestley’s ability to weave a seemingly effortless tale while concealing his brilliant craft. Concludes that it is a great escapist romance of character and situation that does not wallow in false emotion or sentimentality.

DeVitis, A. A., and Albert Kalson. J. B. Priestley. Boston: Twayne, 1980. In chapters 2, “The Novels: Themes and Directions,” and 3, “First Efforts,” the authors assert that The Good Companions’ greatest achievement is its social analysis.

Hughes, David. J. B. Priestley: An Informal Study of His Work. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1958. Chapter 4, “A Promising Young Novelist,” discusses Priestley’s ability to describe locale and character. Examines how The Good Companions captured and interpreted the mood of its time.


Critical Essays