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J B Priestley

John Boynton Priestley, known as J. B. Priestley, was a renowned British playwright, novelist, and social commentator. Born in 1894 into a working-class family, his experiences profoundly shaped his worldview and literary pursuits. Priestley's works, including his acclaimed play An Inspector Calls, deftly challenged societal norms and addressed pressing social issues of his time. His unique blend of dramatic storytelling…

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J B Priestley

J B Priestley

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John Boynton Priestley, known as J. B. Priestley, was a renowned British playwright, novelist, and social commentator. Born in 1894 into a working-class family, his experiences profoundly shaped his worldview and literary pursuits. Priestley's works, including his acclaimed play An Inspector Calls, deftly challenged societal norms and addressed pressing social issues of his time. His unique blend of dramatic storytelling and philosophical exploration garnered significant attention, firmly establishing him as a significant literary figure in the 20th century. Read on to discover his biography and facts about him.

J. B. Priestley Biography
Birth:13th September 1894
Death:14th August 1984
Cause of Death:Pneumonia
Father:Jonathan Priestley
Mother:Emma Priestley (née Holt)
Spouse/Partners:Pat Tempest (m. 1921-1925), Jane Wyndham-Lewis (m. 1925-1953), Jacquetta Hawkes (m. 1953-1984)
Famous Works:
  • When We Are Married
  • An Inspector Calls
  • Time and the Conways
  • The Good Companions
  • Bright Day
Literary Period:Modernist

J. B. Priestley: biography

John Boynton Priestley, known widely by his pen name J.B. Priestley, was a distinguished English novelist, playwright, and broadcaster. His works, which include more than 50 plays and over a hundred novels, were marked by their insightful social commentary and their exploration of time and existence.

J B Priestley, Portrait of J B Priestley with a cigar in his hand and sitting at a desk with a type writer on it, VaiaFig. 1 - J. B. Priestley was an author, playwright, and social commentator who is best known for his play An Inspector Calls.

Born on 13th September 1894, in the industrial city of Bradford, West Yorkshire, Priestley grew up in a working-class family. His mother, Emma Holt, passed away when he was just two years old, leaving him to be raised by his father, Jonathan Priestley, and stepmother (who Jonathan married after 4 years). Despite these early hardships, Priestley developed a love for reading and writing that would fuel his future career.

Priestley's education was interrupted by World War I. He served on the front line and narrowly escaped death on several occasions. On one occasion, in 1916, he was buried alive by a trench mortar and badly wounded. After the war, Priestley studied at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he gained a degree in Modern History and Political Science. His experiences in the war and his time at Cambridge significantly influenced his worldview and literary style.

Following university, Priestley began his career as a journalist and essayist. His first novel, Adam in Moonshine, was published in 1927. However, it was his plays that garnered him the most recognition. An Inspector Calls (1945), his most well-known work, remains a staple of British literature curricula due to its exploration of societal responsibility, moral guilt, and the interconnectivity of human actions.

During World War II, Priestley also became a popular broadcaster. His series of radio broadcasts, known as Postscripts, lifted public morale and were a significant influence on British society's mood during the war.

Priestley's interest in spiritual and philosophical matters is reflected in his exploration of the nature of time in several of his works, including Time and the Conways (1937) and I Have Been Here Before (1937). Despite his lack of traditional religious belief, his works often carry an undercurrent of humanistic and metaphysical themes.

In his personal life, Priestley was married three times and had six children. He was politically active throughout his life, co-founding the Common Wealth Party during World War II (in 1942), and later becoming a founding sponsor of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958.

Priestley was awarded the Freedom of the City of Bradford in 1973 and declined a life peerage in 1965 and appointment as a Companion of Honour in 1969. He did become a member of the Order of Merit in 1977. He continued to write into his eighties, passing away on 14th August 1984 due to pneumonia. His legacy lives on through his significant contributions to literature and his enduring influence on social and philosophical thought.

J. B. Priestley: facts

The main facts about J. B. Priestley are:

  • J. B. Priestley's first job was as a junior clerk with a local wool firm, Helm & Company, which he took at the age of 16. This early exposure to the working world influenced many of his later writings.
  • Priestley served in the British army in World War One.
  • He went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge after his military service.
  • Priestley's When We Are Married (1938) was the first play to be televised unedited from a theatre.
  • He was a regular broadcaster for the BBC with his show Postscripts, which drew in 16 million listeners during World War Two.
  • Priestley wrote over 50 plays and more than 100 novels and essays.
  • He was politically active, co-founding the Common Wealth Party during World War II and later becoming a founding sponsor of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
  • He wrote an English language travelogue called English Journey (1934), which highlighted the working conditions in the industrial north of England during the Great Depression. This book had a significant impact on George Orwell, another famous English writer.

J. B. Priestley: books

From adventures in the English countryside to detailed urban explorations during the Great Depression, Priestley's prose works echo his compelling storytelling and incisive social insights found in his plays.

The Good Companions (1929)

This novel, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, follows the adventures of a concert party (a group of entertainers) and explores themes of camaraderie and the magic of everyday life.

Angel Pavement (1930)

Set in London, this novel gives a detailed, atmospheric description of city life during the Depression. It centres on the employees of Twigg & Dersingham, a veneer-merchant company, and the impact a mysterious businessman has on their lives.

English Journey (1934)

A travelogue that provides Priestley's social commentary about England and the English, as he travels from the south coast to the far north. This work provided a snapshot of England during the Great Depression and influenced thinking about the North-South divide in the UK.

Bright Day (1946)

This novel, often considered one of Priestley's finest, tells the story of a middle-aged scriptwriter who, upon returning to his home city, looks back on his life and revisits his past. The novel offers insight into the changes in English society during the first half of the 20th century.

Plays by J. B. Priestley

J. B. Priestley's plays are known for their social commentary, unique exploration of time, and deeply drawn characters. Priestley's plays remain some of the most influential in British theatre, resonating with audiences to this day.

Time and the Conways (1937)

This play explores the concept of time and its impact on the lives of the members of the Conway family. It's a reflection on the choices people make and how they can affect not only their own lives, but those of others as well.

Dangerous Corner (1932)

Priestley's first solo play is a drawing-room drama that explores truth and the potentially destructive power of revealing all. It tells the story of a group of friends whose dinner party conversation veers into dangerous territory when they begin discussing a recent suicide.

I Have Been Here Before (1937)

Another exploration of the nature of time and existence, this play tells the story of several people at a country inn who seem to be reliving events from a past life.

J. B. Priestley: An Inspector Calls

This play focuses on the prosperous Birling family who are visited by a mysterious Inspector Goole. Goole questions the family about their involvement in the tragic death of a young woman named Eva Smith, revealing the consequences of their actions and emphasizing themes of social responsibility.

Summary Table: An Inspector Calls
Mr. BirlingThe self-important head of the Birling family, a wealthy industrialist, represents the capitalist upper classSocial Responsibility, Class and Social DivisionIntroduced in Act 1, contributes significantly to Eva Smith's demise, refuses to accept responsibility throughout the play
Mrs. BirlingThe socially conscious wife of Mr. Birling, also dismissive of those lower in social statusGender and Age, Respect and Reputation, Class and Social DivisionPresented as cold and detached in Act 2, refuses to accept responsibility for her actions
Sheila BirlingThe Birling's daughter is initially naïve but becomes remorseful and critical of her family's actionsChange and Transformation, Social ResponsibilityIntroduced in Act 1, shows remorse and changes her views by Act 3
Eric BirlingThe Birling's son, immature and irresponsible, reveals a darker side involving Eva SmithSocial Responsibility, Gender and AgeRevealed in Act 2 to be father of Eva's unborn child, confronts his parents in Act 3
Inspector GooleA mysterious figure who interrogates the Birling family, forcing them to confront their actionsJustice and Judgment, Class and Social Division, Social ResponsibilityIntroduced in Act 1, drives the play's narrative, disappears mysteriously in Act 3
Gerald CroftEngaged to Sheila, son of a wealthy industrialist, also implicated in Eva Smith's lifeClass and Social Division, Gender and Age, Respect and ReputationIntroduced in Act 1, reveals his affair with Eva Smith in Act 2
Eva Smith/Daisy RentonThe young working-class woman whose suicide triggers the events of the playClass and Social Division, Social Responsibility, Gender and AgeAlthough never appears on stage, her story unfolds throughout the three acts

J. B. Priestley: political views

J.B. Priestley was known for his strong political views, which often centred around the idea of social equality and responsibility. He was a committed socialist and believed in the importance of community and collective welfare. His works frequently challenged the societal norms of his time and addressed the pressing social issues related to class disparities, exploitation, and inequality.

During World War II, Priestley co-founded the Common Wealth Party, which advocated for common ownership of land and resources, as well as greater democracy and equality. The party had some success in by-elections during the 1940s, showing Priestley's significant influence.

Furthermore, Priestley was an ardent critic of nuclear weapons, becoming a founding sponsor of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1957. His concern for the potential devastation caused by nuclear warfare reflected his broader views on the need for peace and social responsibility.

Even within his plays, Priestley's political beliefs were apparent. In An Inspector Calls, for example, he criticizes the complacency and moral blindness of the upper classes, promoting a message of social responsibility that extends beyond class boundaries.

In his later life, Priestley's political activities decreased, but he remained a fervent advocate for social reform. Thus, Priestley's political views, like his literary works, underscored a profound concern for humanity and a belief in the potential for societal improvement.

J. B. Priestley - Key takeaways

  • John Boynton Priestley, known as J. B. Priestley, was a renowned British playwright, novelist, and social commentator born in 1894.
  • Priestley died in 1984 from pneumonia.
  • His best-known books were The Good Companions, Bright Day, and English Journey.
  • His best-known plays were An Inspector Calls, Time and the Conways, and When We Are Married.
  • Common themes in his works include social responsibility, social reforms, and time slips.

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