Tuesday, 21 April 1998

J.B. Priestley: Daylight on Saturday (1943)

Edition: Heinemann
Review number: 25

This is a wartime propaganda novel, one of several written by Priestley. The others that I have read are more part of the thriller genre (about tracking down black marketeers and saboteurs, for example); this is a tale of ordinary people working in an armaments factory. It is clear that Priestley had decided where his patriotic duty lay, and he subordinated his art to the demands of the state. (If he had done this in Germany, of course, he would be attacked in the way that musicians such as Karajan and Strauss have been for their actions.)

I cannot help feeling, even though I have read few wartime propaganda novels, that Priestley would have produced ones among the best of the type, in much the same way that Laurence Olivier's Henry V would be expected to be among the best wartime propaganda films. There are parts that jar to a modern reader, particularly the way that the novel aims to persuade you that submission to the state is the best way; it is difficult to take that seriously in the late nineties.

An interesting feature of this novel is the narrative method, which is a variant of the multiple viewpoint; each chapter is written from the viewpoint of the person who was in the thoughts of the narrator of the previous chapter. It is not stream of consciousness; the style does not change between a chapter from the point of view of a middle aged university educated manager and one from that of a completely uneducated teenager machine operator, but it does create some interest.

The title, by the way, refers to the way the intensive work of the factory means that the workers only get to see daylight at weekends.

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