Invisible Ink: No 222 - Death by snobbery
Sunday 04 May 2014
This is the first time I’ve revisited an author, after discovering there’s yet another reason why good writing can vanish. When I first mentioned J B Priestley, most of his novels were out of print. Now they’re returning in new editions, accompanied by fresh critical assessment. With hindsight, it appears that the writer was bullied out of print by the arrogance of the intelligentsia.
Andrew Marr said that Priestley was “once too much everywhere. Now he’s not anywhere enough”. The critical darlings of academia, F R Leavis, Orwell, Greene, Woolf, Waugh and co, conspired to disdain and destroy Priestley’s reputation. He was blanked by them in analyses of great 20th-century works for writing about the human condition from the ground, instead of tackling ideas at a more cerebral level. Priestley thought that novels should look to Dickens, Cervantes and Shakespeare (his social detail is extremely Dickensian) and he paid the price for commercial success. He was disrespected by authors who never had to worry about finding work; Woolf considered him “a tradesman of letters”, just as the Bloomsbury set mocked anyone who sold well.
While pejoratives for some bestsellers are often appropriate, Priestley’s victimisation was wrong. Here was a theatrical giant who helped found the National Council for Civil Liberties, a radical wartime broadcaster, and founding member of CND, who helped set up the Albany Trust counselling organisation during homosexual law reform. He was a popular and familiar figure, then, too familiar not to be dismantled. This would merely merit a historical footnote were it not for the fact that Priestley’s writing has proven durable and prescient.
Angel Pavement (1930) is the story of a genteel company upended by a new employee. The articles Mr Smeeth reads from his paper could be in today’s red tops. He is concerned that his children’s growing independence and indifference to his values will damage them. His staff are fearful and exhilarated at the thought of sudden, irrevocable change. Presenting recognisable behaviour in characters is hardly a talent to be despised, but it would be dull if that were all; it’s not, because Priestley is presenting a forensic, humane indictment of the working English under pressure from all sides. Ultimately, his decency and humanity was considered to have undermined his work, a ludicrous idea that with his victorious re-emergence is now mercifully heading for history’s dustbin, returning Angel Pavement to its rightful status as one of the greatest London novels.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 London restaurant 34 creates champagne glass modelled on Kate Moss’ left breast
- 4 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?
Jeremy Clarkson 'sees no problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
Lucy, film review: Scarlett Johansson will blow your mind in Luc Besson's complex thriller
Miley Cyrus concert banned on morality grounds in the Dominican Republic
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Bin bag full of cats' heads discovered near Manchester's Curry Mile
Disgusting, frustrating, but intriguing: how the country really feels about its politicians