John Braine Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Gerard Braine was born to Fred and Katherine Braine, who were lower-middle-class Catholics and therefore part of a distinguishable minority in Yorkshire, England. Braine’s mother had great expectations of her son, which as a student he began to fulfill. Braine’s formal education began at the state-run Thackley Boarding School, where from 1927 to 1933 he was exposed to a predominantly Protestant, working-class atmosphere. After graduating with honors in 1933, he attended St. Bede’s Grammar School in Bradford for five years and then took a variety of jobs. He served as a librarian from 1940 to 1957, work that was interrupted from 1940 to 1943 by his work as a telegrapher in the Royal Navy and from 1951 to 1953 by work as a freelance writer in London. Between 1952 and 1954, he suffered intermittently from tuberculosis. In 1957, after having had his first novel rejected five times and experiencing the death of his mother, his novel Room at the Top was published to great acclaim. After its appearance, he devoted himself to writing and travel.

Critics identified him as one of the most important of the new generation of writers that appeared after World War II and became known as Britain’s Angry Young Men; the group’s approach to life is similar to that of its American counterpart, young postwar writers whose work is sometimes called the Cult of Brutality. In both England and the United States, young writers were expressing their anger at human callousness and cruelty. Braine’s writing is frank and vigorous, and he handles his topics with gusto.

Room at the Top follows the career of a poor but ambitious young man who wishes to rent a room and finally engages one. The room, it turns out, is located in a house on the Top, a hill inhabited by the town’s wealthy and representing a sordid world.

Braine wrote twelve additional novels, which met with varying critical success. He was praised for his smooth and sophisticated style, narrative power, and compassionate insights into human suffering, though there were those who criticized his work for self-conscious hedonism, sentimentality, and ambiguity. His most autobiographical novel, One and Last Love, was commended for its vivid and provoking portrayal of people and places, past memories and present experiences. Throughout his life, Braine was capable of surprising his readers, and he is distinguished by stubborn integrity and craftsmanship.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

John Gerard Braine was born April 13, 1922, in the Nonconformist city of Bradford, Yorkshire. His parents, Fred and Katherine, were lower-middle-class Catholics and therefore part of a distinguishable minority. His father was a works superintendent for the Bradford Corporation, his mother a librarian whose Irish Catholic family had relocated, along with a colony of Irish, to Yorkshire during the potato famine of the 1840’s. With an attitude much like that of the headmaster’s wife toward her students in Cyril Connolly’s Enemies of Promise (1938), Braine’s mother expected great things of her son; she “supercharged” him, to use Connolly’s word, and he responded, both as a student and later as a professional writer.

Braine’s formal education, while it lasted, was very good. From 1927 to 1933 he attended the state-run Thackley Boarding School, where, along with his exposure to Charles Dickens and Thomas Babington Macaulay, he found the predominantly Protestant, working-class atmosphere an asset to an aspiring writer; as he later observed, “One is pitchforked into the only tenable position for a writer; on the outside, looking in.” After passing his examinations with honors, he graduated in 1933 to St. Bede’s Grammar School, Heaton, and for the first time was made aware of “a split between the social world of home and school.” At Thackley, Braine had been “a mildly mixed-up little boy”; at St. Bede’s, he found himself “wildly at variance with the whole world” as he knew it. In adult life, his recurring nightmare was of being back at St. Bede’s and aware of improperly done homework, wasting time, allowing people to get ahead of him, guilt, and, above all, physical pain. Although he left school at sixteen without graduating, five years later he received his school certificate by correspondence courses. Braine had no regrets about either school, however, for the experiences gave him what he needed: the essentials of English grammar and lessons about the world in which he lived, “which meant knowing about what had happened in the past.”

For the next two years, Braine drifted in typical success-story pattern from one dull job to another—as an...

(The entire section is 904 words.)