Priestley, J(ohn) B(oynton) (Vol. 9)

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Priestley, J(ohn) B(oynton) 1894–

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Priestley, a British novelist, playwright, theater director, and essayist whom Michael George calls "something of a professional Englishman," has in his writings attempted to discover and describe the ingredients of the English personality. A keen observer, Priestley is noted for his accurate and evocative descriptions of character and setting as well as for his uncompromisingly humanistic stance. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)

The title story [of The Carfitt Crisis] was—according to Mr Priestley—"originally conceived in dramatic form" and it has all the scars of an after-birth. The dialogue is of that heavy and awkward variety which is always associated with bad drama reduced to cold print, and the narrative reads like a particularly elaborate set of stage directions. The dramatis personae in this particular crisis are thoroughly conventional and the plot (which has something to do with the arrival of a thoroughly modern, cool and boring American into the thoroughly middle-class, anxious and unstable household of the Carfitts) turns around a predictable axis.

A certain amount of cliche is permissible on stage, of course, where recognisable human beings can be actually seen to mouth the dreadful stuff; but on the page, the enterprise becomes merely ridiculous. (p. 664)

Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1975 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), May 31, 1975.

[Found, Lost, Found: The English Way of Life is] a disappointment. The action moves along with all the pace and energy we expect of this expert storyteller, but at the end we're left with a withered acorn of prejudice…. [One] of the infuriating things about this novel is that everyone keeps telling everyone else how clever he or she is, though with minimal justification…. His hero's travels provide Priestley with opportunities to air his prejudices, which he does with a surprising lack of sparkle. Had he written a more substantial novel he might have scored some winning points, but instead of riding the whole course on his pet hobby-horses he does not stay long enough in any one saddle to make an appreciable impact…. Priestley has always adopted a style which needs more elbowroom [than this].

The satirical targets are really too obvious—the Government, the civil service, shop stewards, avant garde producers of Shakespeare, Women's Libbers, dog-lovers and politically-minded students…. It's sad … to discover that a master of prose who in the past wrote so vividly about the English, not with stars in his eyes but with generosity in his heart, has lost—only momentarily, I hope—that warmth of understanding. Humour and humanity have given way to petulance, and in the process Priestley has lost both his sense of compassion and his security of marksmanship. There are some fine moments, of course…. They are not enough, however, to compensate for the flimsiness of the story and the faltering aim of the novelist's satirical arrows. (p. 60)

Frank Granville Barker, in Books and Bookmen (© copyright Frank Granville Barker 1976; reprinted with permission), September, 1976.

J. B. Priestley once complimented life for having such an easy time creating superior comic characters and situations. Novelists must strain to do this: "We hear a sneering little voice whispering, 'Absurd … overdrawn … unconvincing … Dickensian' … and so out they go, these glorious extravagances." In 71 novels, plays and collections of essays, Mr. Priestley, now 82, has made a career of sneering back at that little voice. An unrepentantly public figure, he wants his own "extravagances" to be heard and immediately understood: "No matter what the subject in hand might be, I want to write something that at a pinch I could read aloud in a barparlor."

Mr. Priestley's new novel, "Found, Lost,...

(The entire section contains 1150 words.)

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Priestley, J(ohn) B(oynton) (Vol. 5)