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This blog makes liberal use of AB's journals, letters, travel notes, and other sources.

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Thursday, 13 February 2014

On technique

Wednesday, February 13th., Cadogan Square, London.

J. B. Priestley's article on me in London Mercury for February. 

The London Mercury was a monthly magazine published by Field Press Ltd. It was published first in 1919, one year after the end of the First World War. It sought to fill a gap in the market of literary magazines. According to its founding editor it was unique among other literary journals as it combined the publication of creative writing, reviews of the contemporary literary output, publishing poetry, prose writing and full-length literary essays, and critical surveys of books. Its mission was to foster the teaching of English and the appreciation of the arts.

After quoting from "The Authors Craft":
"With the single exception of Turgenev the great novelists of the world, according to my standards, have either ignored technique or have failed to understand it. What an error to suppose that the finest foreign novels show a better sense of form than the finest English novels!"

He goes on himself:
"What an error indeed! The fact is, of course, that the art of fiction as practised by the great novelists is technique, and any other 'technique' is either some inferior method or a mere catch-phrase of the pontifical critic."

This is a bit thick. It is easy to show where very many of the great novels fail in technique (Anna Karenina", e.g.) and where they could have been improved if the author had had the advantages of Flaubert, de Maupassant, or even Tchekoff. They are great in spite of carelessness, and their carelessness is often notorious. 

I thank heaven I have always gone in for technique. And "The Pretty Lady" and "Riceyman Steps" are both, in my opinion, jolly well constructed and done books.

J. B. Priestley (1894 - 1984) was born in Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Jack, as he was known to the family, enjoyed the rich cultural and social life of prosperous, cosmopolitan and relatively classless Bradford: music hall, football, classical music concerts and family gatherings. When the Great War broke out, Priestley volunteered, joining the Duke of Wellington’s West Yorkshire Regiment. After a year of training in southern England, he was sent to the Front in 1915. After the War, Priestley studied at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, thanks to a very small ex-officer’s grant. He excelled academically, but decided to make a career as a writer. In the 1930s, Priestley began a new career as a dramatist, a form of writing many have considered best suited to his great talents. His plays were impeccably crafted, sometimes experimental and are characterised by pre-War settings and various perspectives on time. Priestley’s social conscience was awakened by growing social inequalities in the 1930s, which were unforgettably outlined in “English Journey” (1934), where he raged at the treatment of veterans and the desolation of places like Rusty Lane. In the 1950s, Priestley became increasingly politically disillusioned, as the promise of the Labour success in the 1945 election seemed betrayed. It is difficult to do justice to the size and range of Priestley’s writings. In recent years, there has been a surge in his popularity, thanks among others to the work of the J.B. Priestley Society and to the impact of the astonishingly successful National Theatre production of “An Inspector Calls”.

Additionally for February 13th., see 'Moved by music'

At the opening bars of "The Flying Dutchman" overture I felt those strange tickling sensations in the back which are the physical signs of aesthetic emotion. The mysterious effects of orchestral colour contrast dazed and dazzled Frank's willing ears till he existed simply as a "receiver" - receiver of a microphone or other phonetic instrument ...
The waves of sound swallowed him up, and at the end he emerged, like a courageous child from the surf of a summer sea, dripping wet, breathless, and enraptured.

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