Colin Wilson


J B Priestley, The Last of the Sages

By John Atkins

John Calder: Riverrun Press, 308pp. £15 order from our bookshop

There is a passage in Angus Wilson’s novel Hemlock and After that will undoubtedly afford amusement to literary historians of the future. A group of ‘cultured’ people are discussing a scheme for helping young writers, and someone remarks that Eliot has given his support, and that Maugham has subscribed handsomely. ‘I suppose you’ve got Priestley?’ says a rather catty type. ‘Bernard was not so easily caught. He ignored the remark. “Charles Morgan”, he said, smiling at Hubert, “is unfortunately in France.”‘ Hemlock and After appeared in 1951, and what is being implied is that Priestley is quite unmentionable – or certainly not in the same breath as Eliot, Maugham and Morgan. Nowadays, no one ever reads Morgan, Maugham’s reputation is at rock-bottom, and Eliot’s is only just beginning to recover from the slump that usually occurs after a writer’s death. The latest book on Priestley, on the other hand, is published by John Calder, the doyen of the avant garde, and the dust-jacket advertises works by Beckett, Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute. Clearly, Priestley is in the process of being revalued and upgraded.

Sara Stewart


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