Other Literary Forms
J. B. Priestley’s plays may be his most lasting contribution to literature, yet as a consummate man of letters, he mastered many genres in a canon consisting of nearly two hundred works. Beginning his writing career as critic and essayist on subjects ranging from William Shakespeare to Thomas Love Peacock, from the art of conversation to political theory, Priestley became a household name in 1929 with the extraordinarily popular success of The Good Companions, a picaresque novel about a concert party, which, translated into many languages, was an international best-seller. In all, he wrote more than thirty novels, eighteen books of essays and autobiography, numerous works of social commentary and history, accounts of his travels, philosophical conjectures on the nature of time, even morale-boosting propaganda during World War II, as well as an occasional screenplay and an opera libretto. Poetry was the only genre he neglected, after publishing, at his own expense, a single slim volume of verse in 1918, The Chapman of Rhymes. He was a popular professional writer, vitally concerned with every aspect of human life, and no subject escaped his scrutiny. As a result, the gruff, pipe-smoking Yorkshireman held a unique position in English letters as a highly respected sage who was also a man of the people.
For more than half a century, he remained loyal to a single publishing house, William Heinemann, which brought out nearly all of his massive output in various genres. Heinemann published single editions of most of his plays as well as thematically linked collections of two, three, and four plays. Heinemann’s major collection of his drama, consisting of twenty-one of his plays, both comedies and dramas, was published as The Plays of J. B. Priestley in three volumes from 1948 to 1950.