John Boynton Priestley was born at home in Bradford, England, on September 13, 1894, the son of solid, loving, working-class parents, Johnathan Priestley and Emma Holt. His father, a schoolmaster with a reputation for personal study and a passion for teaching and community involvement, instilled in him a love of literature and a firm commitment to social issues. The Bradford of Priestley’s youth also provided him with a rich variety of experience and became the background—as Bruddersford—in his most popular novel, The Good Companions (1929). Priestley took advantage of every available cultural opportunity, knowing as he gained experience that what he most wanted was to write. He had several articles published in the local newspapers, including a Labour weekly, which reflected his acceptance of local socialist politics. The glory days and optimism of his youth ended abruptly in 1914 when England entered World War I. Priestley volunteered for the military and served five years in France, where he saw most of his friends killed. He was wounded when a mortar shell landed within two yards of him. Throughout his life Priestley remained bitter toward “the murderous imbecility” of World War I.
Although he felt higher education to be pretentious, Priestley reluctantly decided to study first English and then modern history and political science at Cambridge University. He did not care for university life or for his classmates, who he believed looked down on him, even when his work was published in the Cambridge Review. Upon graduation he moved to London with fifty pounds, his wife, Pat Tempest, two daughters, and a handful of good reviews for his first collection of essays, Brief Diversions: Being Tales, Travesties, and Epigrams (1922). Priestley worked as a freelance writer, publishing essays in periodicals such as The Spectator and Saturday Review. He also published several volumes of literary criticism, including the highly regarded Fools and...
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