J. B. Priestley

English writer

John Boynton Priestley OM (13 September 189414 August 1984) was an English playwright, novelist, social commentator, biographer, literary critic, screenwriter and broadcaster. Though now rather unfashionable, in his heyday he was one of the best-known British writers of his generation, combining popular success with critical respect.

J B Priestley at work in his study, 1940. (7893553148).jpg
See also An Inspector Calls, I Have Been Here Before and Time and the Conways.


  • Those no-sooner-have-I-touched-the-pillow people are past my comprehension. There is something suspiciously bovine about them.
  • I suppose -- in the last resort -- you trust life -- or you don't. Well -- I don't. There's something malicious . . . corrupt . . . cruel . . . at the heart of it. We don't belong. We're a mistake.
  • I have lived longer than you. I have thought more, and I have suffered more. And I tell you there is more truth to the fundamental nature of things in the most foolish fairy tales than there is in any of your complaints against life.
  • Remember what we once were and what we thought we'd be. And now this. And it's all we have, Allan, it's us. Every step we've taken -- every tick of the clock -- making everything worse. If this is all life is, what's the use? Better to die, like carol, before you find it out, before Time gets to work on you. I've felt it before, Allan, but never as I've done tonight. There's a great devil in the universe, and we call it Time.
  • But the point is, now, at this moment, or at any moment, we're only a cross-section of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us -- the real you, the real me. And then perhaps we'll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream.
    • Time and the Conways, p. 60.
  • Living in age of advertisement, we are perpetually disillusioned. The perfect life is spread before us every day, but it changes and withers at a touch.
    • "The Disillusioned", in The Balconinny, and Other Essays ([1929] 1969) p. 30.
  • It's silly for young men to announce themselves as new types of humanity. . .and then give you nothing but stale communism. Old H.G. Wells has more new ideas than the lot of them.
    • Letter to Hugh Walpole, 21 April 1933. Quoted in Roger Fagge, The Vision of J.B. Priestley. London : Bloomsbury Academic, 2013, (p. 9).
  • I wished I had been born early enough to have been called a Little Englander. It was a term of sneering abuse, but I should be delighted to accept it as a description of myself. That little sounds the right note of affection. It is little England I love.
    • English Journey, 1934. Reprinted in Judy Giles and Tim Middleton Writing Englishness: An Introductory Sourcebook,Routledge, 2003 (p. 26).
  • It should be realised that men will take enormous risks rather than be bored. War has been used before now to prevent a bored populace from getting into mischief, at the expense of its rulers.
    • "The Public and the Idea of Peace", in Challenge to Death, edited by Storm Jameson, E. P. Dutton & Company, Incorporated, 1935.
  • Shaw presumes that his friend Stalin has everything under control. Well, Stalin may have made special arrangements to see that Shaw comes to no harm, but the rest of us in Western Europe do not feel quite so sure of our fate, especially those of us who do not share Shaw's curious admiration for dictators.
    • J. B. Priestley, "The War - And After", in Horizon magazine (January 1940), reprinted in War Decade : An Anthology of the 1940s (1989) by Andrew Sinclair
  • Our great-grand-children, when they learn how we began this war by snatching glory out of defeat, and then swept on to victory, may also learn how the little holiday steamers made an excursion to hell and came back glorious.
    • "Postscript to the News", broadcast on BBC radio, June 5, 1940; published in The Listener, June 13, 1940.
  • We cannot go forward and build up this new world order, and this is our war aim, unless we begin to think differently...one must stop thinking in terms of property and power and begin thinking in terms of community and creation. Property is the old-fashioned way of thinking of a country as a thing, and a collection of things in that thing, all owned by certain people and constituting property; instead of thinking of a country as the home of a living society with the community itself as the first test.
    • BBC Radio Broadcast, July 21, 1940. Reprinted in Priestley, Postscripts, William Heinemann Limited, 1940, and All England Listened: The Wartime Broadcasts of J.B. Priestley, Chilmark Press, 1968.
  • In plain words; now that Britain has told the world she has the H-Bomb, she should announce as early as possible that she has done with it, that she proposes to reject, in all circumstances, nuclear warfare. This is not pacifism. There is no suggestion here of abandoning the immediate defence of this island . . . No, what should be abandoned is the idea of deterrence-by-threat-of-retaliation. There is no real security in it, no decency in it, no faith, hope, nor charity in it.
  • No matter what is willed by consciousness, that which belongs to the depths can only be restored in the depths: the numinous lies outside the power of collectives, cannot be subject to state decree, created by a resolution at an international conference, offered to all shareholders and employees by the board of Standard Oil or General Motors.
    • Literature and Western Man, Harper, 1960.
  • I can't help feeling wary when I hear anything said about the masses. First you take their faces from 'em by calling 'em the masses and then you accuse 'em of not having any faces.
    • Saturn Over the Water (1961) ch. 2.
  • It is hard to tell where the MCC ends and the Church of England begins.
  • In spite of recent jazzed-up one-day matches, cricket to be fully appreciated demands leisure, some sunny warm days and an understanding of its finer points.
    • The English (1973).
  • Most writers enjoy two periods of happiness – when a glorious idea comes to mind and, secondly, when a last page has been written and you haven’t had time to know how much better it ought to be.
  • Much of writing might be described as mental pregnancy with successive difficult deliveries.
  • Although we talk so much about coincidence we do not really believe in it. In our heart of hearts we think better of the universe, we are secretly convinced that it is not such a slipshod, haphazard affair, that everything in it has meaning.


It's an Old Country (1967)Edit

  • So Tom was left alone again, this time for quite a spell. The place had filled up now and he was gradually pushed back from the bar counter until he found himself closely ringed round by men and girls, nearly all talking hard. They were wildly different in appearance, ranging from the slovenly to the excessively smart, but they were all alike, it seemed to him as he listened to them, in being on the edge of things. They were nearly doing a television series, almost about to have a play done at the Arts, just missing a commission to photograph Sicily for a coffee-table book, possibly writing two songs for a new musical, being asked to try again for that super modelling job. And while they might be all on their way towards ultimate disillusion and misery, just now they were gay and excited, full of enthusiasm for themselves, their work, their enchanting style of life. Tom had met a few men and women of great and widely-recognised talent, large personalities a long way from these edges, people bang in the centre, and they had displayed little or none of this enthusiasm, often seeming dubious, disenchanted, melancholy, weighed down by the sense of responsibility a great talent and reputation bring. But these types, with fuzzy little talents at best and with only the faintest glimmer of reputation, were still enchanted - at least at this hour with drinks in their hands. And not for the first time, Tom wondered about the drinks, which demanded a constant passing of pound notes. Nobody he had overheard so far appeared to have earned any money recently, yet here they were buying double gins and whiskies.
    • Ch 4 - p.44-45 (Page numbers per the 1967 William Heinemann hardback)

Quotes about PriestleyEdit

  • Then, above all, the English people have a curious sense of humour, rather than wit. Humour comes from the heart; wit comes from the brain. We can laugh at ourselves. ... Well, laughter is one of the best things that God has given us, and with hearty laughter neither malice nor indecency can exist. And of all men who have shown us what that laughter can mean, none was like Dickens, every one of whose characters is English to the marrow; and if I might mention a living writer, I think the truest Englishmen are found in Mr. Priestley's novels.
    • Stanley Baldwin, broadcast from London (25 September 1933), quoted in This Torch of Freedom (1935), p. 13
  • Priestley became in the months after Dunkirk a leader second only in importance to Mr. Churchill. And he gave us what our other leaders have always failed to give us – an ideology.
    • Graham Greene, The Spectator (13 December 1940), quoted in J. Baxendale and C. Pawling, Narrating the Thirties: A Decade in the Making, 1930 to the Present (1995), p. 134

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