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"English Journey" by J.B. Priestley

English Journey - J.B. Priestley

It was Victor Gollancz who commissioned two pieces of English travel writing from two gifted but very different writers. One was "The Road to Wigan Pier" by George Orwell, the other was "English Journey". 

"English Journey" is subtitled...

"English journey being a rambling but truthful account of what one man saw and heard and felt and thought during a journey through England during the autumn of the year 1933 by J.B. Priestley."

...which sums it up very succinctly.

In 1934, J.B. Priestley published this account of a journey through England from Southampton to the Black Country, to the North East and Newcastle, to Norwich and then back to his home in Highgate, London. His account is very personal and idiosyncratic, and in it he muses on how towns and regions have changed, their history, amusing pen pictures of those he encounters, and all of this is enhanced by a large side order of realism and hard-nosed opinion. The book was a best seller when it was published and apparently had an influence on public attitudes to poverty and welfare, and the eventual formation of the welfare state.

The book also makes a fascinating companion piece to "In Search Of England" byH.V. Morton, which was published a few years earlier, and was another enormously successful English travelogue, however one that provides a far more romantic version of England, an England untroubled by poverty and the depression. Like H.V. Morton's book, "English Journey" has never been out of print. 

"English Journey" is a fascinating account, and the edition I read, published by Great Northern Books, is also illustrated with over 80 modern and archive photos. It's a really beautiful book and one I heartily recommend.

The introduction by the always readable and interesting Stuart Maconie made me chuckle too...

"If, as a writer, J.B. Priestley had just been brilliant, humane, elegant, virile, intelligent, witty and technically dazzling, he'd be arguably considered the pre-eminent British literary talent of his age. Sadly from him though, he also laboured beneath the crushing burden of being accessible, engaging, crystal clear and enormously popular. The mandarins of the metropolitan elite like their 'provincial' voices to stay just that if possible, or at least to have the decency to be faintly troubled and attractively doomed, like say D.H. Lawrenceor John Lennon, rather than rich, successful, boundlessly gifted and ordered like J.B. Priestley or Paul McCartney. The riches and success must have been some consolation."

I shall be reading more of J.B. Priestley's work.