Two autobiographical volumes constitute the major nondramatic writings of James Bridie. Some Talk of Alexander, derived from his experiences in the field ambulance unit of the British army during World War I in India, Mesopotamia, Persia, Transcaucasia, and Constantinople, was published in 1926. A second autobiography, One Way of Living, published in 1939, is a creative memoir written when Bridie had turned fifty. It is divided into ten chapters, each covering a five-year period of his life. There is an overlay of italicized portions in each chapter, in which an interior monologue of the author ranges freely over some imaginative, associative reflection, evoking the style of James Joyce in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). In addition to his two autobiographical works, Bridie wrote a collection of essays entitled Mr. Bridie’s Alphabet for Little Glasgow Highbrows (1934); a collection of short plays, fragments, essays, poetry, and film and radio scripts entitled Tedious and Brief (1944); criticism in The British Drama (1945); and still another collection of essays entitled A Small Stir: Letters on the English (1949; with Moray McLaren). Finally, Bridie was a prolific writer of articles, described by Winifred Bannister, his biographer, as “witty, teasing admonitions usually aimed at drawing people into the theatre, and even that part of the Scottish public not interested in the theatre could hardly avoid being aware of Bridie as a personality, for almost everything he said and did in public was news.”
James Bridie, like John Keats and Anton Chekhov, belongs to a long tradition of writers who were educated for a medical career but who eventually became major literary figures. The author of more than forty plays, he complemented that impressive achievement with a lifelong, active participation in the development of the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow’s equivalent of London’s National Theatre. His civic work on the Scottish Arts Council, the Edinburgh International Festival of music and drama, the film section of UNESCO, and the Scottish Community Drama Association was unflagging. He also developed into a more than proficient artist, for a time illustrating the Scots Pictorial as “O.H.” His drawings and paintings have been exhibited at Glasgow art galleries.
Bridie’s position in modern British drama is firmly established, and certainly he is a major dramatist in Scottish theater history. Gerald Weales in Religion in Modern English Drama (1961) links Bridie and George Bernard Shaw as modern religious dramatists who, at their deaths in 1951 (Bridie) and 1950 (Shaw), left religious drama “almost completely in the hands of the more orthodox practitioners,” few of whom “approach Shaw and Bridie as playwrights.” J. B. Priestley, a consummate crafter of the well-made play, while calling attention to some of Bridie’s weaknesses, calls his best scenes “blazing triumphs.” He also asserts that Bridie’s “characters appear to exist more in their own right than Shaw’s.”
Indeed, for Priestley, Bridie is Scotland’s major dramatist. In the preface to the posthumous publication of Meeting at Night, Priestley offers a measured evaluation of Bridie’s work. He concludes his personal tribute to Bridie with the comment that since his death, “the Theatre has seemed only half the size, half the fun, it used to be.”
Low, John Thomas. Doctors, Devils, Saints, and Sinners: A Critical Study of the Major Plays of James Bridie. Edinburgh, Scotland: Ramsay Head Press, 1980. An examination of the dramatic works of Bridie. Bibliography and index.
Mavor, Ronald. Dr. Mavor and Mr. Bridie: Memories of James Bridie. Edinburgh, Scotland: Canongate, 1988. A biography of Bridie from a personal viewpoint. Analysis of dramatic works is included.
Tobin, Terence. James Bridie. Boston: Twayne, 1980. A chronological analysis of the complete multifaceted works of Bridie as a Renaissance man of the first half of the twentieth century. Includes a photograph, a chronology, a bibliography, and an index.