July 20, 2022 at 2:32 pm #4045HarryTheScrivenerParticipant
I turned up at uni creative writing class on life writing clutching a biography of Priestley, most famous for his play An Inspector Calls. The look of contempt on the tutor’s sour visage in turn repelled me. She was all modern this and gender that and voices of the oppressed, blah blah blah. I recalled her revulsion when I pointed out some aspects of British colonialism that were positive, and her utter disdain that a middle aged white male had any business commenting on such matters. Until I told her I was married to an African and have two African children and therefore had some skin in the game. Anyway, this pompously narrow-minded individual spoke of Priestley as being unworthy of consideration despite the fact An Inspector Calls remains on school curriculums as it still shines a light on inequality within society. Priestley was incredibly prolific with many plays and novels produced in a lifetime of writing. His ‘time’ plays were experimental for the period they were produced and many novels display a rich depth of human understanding. But his favourite work for me is a novel called Bright Day, simply sublime writing and storytelling.July 26, 2022 at 5:19 pm #4052JimTKParticipant
Not sure what your tutor’s issue was with Priestley. I haven’t read much of his ficitonal work but I know he was very influential on morale with his BBC broadcasts during the Second World War and that he helped shaped the post-war Labour agenda for social justice. A pity we have no such inspirational figures among the littany of scoundrels and incompetants in today’s House of Commons.July 30, 2022 at 3:01 pm #4083LesleyaParticipant
I don’t know much about Priestly or his work, but any teacher of writing must surely understand that everything that is written is “of its time” – we cannot help but be influenced by the times we live in – and I would have thought that part of the point about reading fiction is to understand the context in which it was written as well as the work itself.July 31, 2022 at 6:47 am #4085HelenParticipant
I used to teach English Literature to GCSE level and it was all about context. While this is important, on reflection I believe that the words alone on the page without any additional information should speak for themselves. Does knowing the social or autobiographical context in which the words were written help us appreciate the work? Well, yes, it can. But then we see the work framed and maybe skewed by that knowledge. However, if you can read a poem or a story and it’s a joy or poignant on some level just on its own merit, then that’s a real triumph.
In conclusion, I believe in reading fiction and poetry without knowing anything about the author or time that it was written first. Just the raw words. Then, if I am captivated by it, I might be curious enough to investigate the context further.July 31, 2022 at 9:47 am #4086LesleyaParticipant
I agree that the work should stand on its own feet – and we shouldn’t judge the value of the work by the value of the author’s life. I think where I struggle is when an author is denigrated for creating characters (at whatever point in the past) that don’t live up to the social values of our time.
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