J. B. Priestley Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bradford, once the wool-merchandizing center of Northern England, provided the perfect atmosphere for a budding writer. A commercial hub on a more human scale than sprawling London, the city nurtured the arts. There were two theaters, two music halls, a concert hall visited by the world’s most renowned musicians, play-reading societies, arts clubs, a good library, and a local paper that accepted contributions from young writers. Nearby were the Yorkshire dales, providing solace from the city’s bustle. John Boynton Priestley, encouraged by his Socialist schoolmaster father and his kindly stepmother, took advantage of all that his native city had to offer. He lived a culturally rich childhood balanced by long weekend walks on the moors. The environment of his home, where his father led discussions on the arts, education, and politics, stimulated him as well. To Richard Pendlebury, his English master, Priestley attributed his awakening interest in literature and his early desire to be a writer.

Priestley furtively wrote poetry and short stories in his notebooks during the days he spent as a junior clerk in a wool firm. Unable to concentrate on commerce, he began placing his pieces in popular London weekly magazines. In 1913, he became a regular contributor to The Bradford Pioneer, a Labour weekly, with a cultural column he called “Round the Hearth.”

World War I interrupted a tranquil, idyllic, if directionless, existence, and, in 1914, Priestley enlisted in the duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. Shipped to France, he was wounded near Souchez and returned to England. In 1917, after his recuperation, he received a commission as lieutenant. Back in France, Priestley, along with several members of his Devon Regiment, was gassed. In his writing, he hardly mentioned the wartime horrors that he witnessed and suffered, yet World War I remains the key to an understanding of his work. Priestley never shed...

(The entire section is 793 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John Boynton Priestley was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, on September 13, 1894. His mother died soon after his birth, and he was reared by a kind and loving stepmother. His father, Jonathan, was a schoolmaster; in his autobiographical work Margin Released, Priestley characterizes his father as the man Socialists have in mind when they write about Socialists.

In Priestley’s early years, Bradford offered much to feed a romantic boy’s imagination: theater, the music halls, a playgoer’s society, an arts club, the concert stage, a busy market street, and a grand-scale arcade called the Swan. A tram ride away were the Yorkshire Dales and moors. As a young man, Priestley worked in a wool office, writing poetry and short stories into handmade notebooks in his spare time. An important early influence was Richard Pendlebury, his English master. Priestley later observed that Bradford and its environs did more for his education than did Cambridge University, which he attended years later.

In 1915, Priestley enlisted in the army. He was sent to France, invalided back to England after being wounded, and then sent back to France. Significantly, his experience of war does not figure explicitly in any fictional piece, with the single exception of the haunting short story The Town Major of Miraucourt, which was published on its own in 1930. Priestley’s entire creative output may, however, have been an attempt to put war and its ravages...

(The entire section is 580 words.)


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

John Boynton Priestley was born on September 13, 1894, in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, the son of a schoolmaster. He was educated in the Bradford schools and at Trinity College of the University of Cambridge. He served with the Duke of Wellington’s and Devon regiments from 1914 to 1919. He was graduated from Trinity College with honors in English literature, political science, and modern history. He married Patricia Tempest, with whom he had two daughters, in 1919; Mary Wyndham Lewis, with whom he had three more daughters and a son, in 1926; and Jacquetta Hawkes, the writer and his sometime collaborator, in 1953.

He began his writing career at sixteen, contributing articles to London and provincial newspapers. He went to London in 1922 and established himself as a reviewer, critic, and essayist; in addition, he published two or three books a year, including studies of the work of George Meredith and Thomas Love Peacock for the English Men of Letters series, a history of the English novel, and other works. By 1930, he had established a strong reputation both in England and the United States through his novels, including Angel Pavement (1930), which falls loosely into the category of crime fiction. His work during this period was a mixture of personal history and social criticism.

In 1932, he wrote Dangerous Corner, a highly successful drama that launched him on a new career, one that occupied much of his time from then on....

(The entire section is 437 words.)