Priestley’s England is the first full-length academic study of J B Priestley — novelist, playwright, screen-writer, journalist and broadcaster, political activist, public intellectual and popular entertainer, one of the makers of twentieth-century Britain, and one of its sharpest critics. From his scathing analysis of a slump-stricken nation in the best-selling English Journey, to his popular wartime broadcasts which paved the way to 1945 and the welfare state, his post-war critique of ‘Admass’ and the Cold War (he was a co-founder of CND), and his continual engagement with the question of ‘Englishness’, Priestley addressed the key issues of the century from a radical standpoint in fiction, journalism and plays which appealed to a wide audience and made him one of the most successful writers of his day, in a career which spanned the 1920s and the 1980s.
Priestley’s England explores the cultural, literary and political history of twentieth-century Britain through the themes which preoccupied Priestley throughout his life: competing versions of Englishness; tradition, modernity, and the decline of industrial England; ‘Americanisation’, mass culture and ‘Admass’; cultural values and ‘broadbrow’ culture; consumerism and the decay of the public sphere; the loss of spirituality and community in ‘the nervous excitement, the frenzy, the underlying despair of our century’. It argues that Priestley has been unjustly neglected for too long: we have a great deal to learn both from this extraordinary, multi-faceted man, and from the English radical tradition he represented.
This book will appeal to all those interested in the culture and politics of twentieth-century Britain, in the continuing debates over ‘Englishness’ to which Priestley made such a key contribution, and in the life and work of one of the most remarkable and popular writers of the past century.