J.B. Priestley’s Delight (1949) is one of his best-loved and best known books. A quirky selection box of 114 mini essays, each offering a glimpse of an everyday moment which delighted him. Altogether they also give a sense of Priestley’s personality, family life, his boyhood in Bradford, and life in the late 1940s.
The joy of this book is that there are Delights to appeal to everyone. My own favourites are A walking tour, about the joy of a spring morning in the Dales just after Priestley left the army, Gin and tonic, 1940, which gives a lovely sense of a moment of peace in the pub during the madness of the Blitz, Lawn tennis, and The sound of a football.
Some are famous, such as Fountains, in which Priestley calls for towns and cities to be filled with “fountains – more and more fountains – higher and higher fountains – like wine, like blue and green fire” instead of the “many idiotic things we are given and do not want”.
Some are funny, such as Quietly malicious chairmanship. Priestley must have sat through many excruciatingly dull meetings to give this insight into how a chairman can ruin an event by pre-empting the speaker’s main point in his introduction, whispering, passing notes, doodling, and taking a cigarette lighter to pieces.
Some show Priestley’s delight in things one might expect him to like, such as tobacco (Trying new blends, Smoking in hot bath). Others give new insights into unexpected experiences, such as the refreshment of Mineral water in bedrooms of foreign hotels, after traipsing round cathedrals etc and drinking too much wine.
The essays often explore the compensations of adulthood: being allowed to wear Long trousers, and No school report, and of age, such as Not going to social events if you don’t want to – he came to realise he wasn’t missing much, and not to care if he did.
The book has added resonance because it goes against Priestley’s own apparent nature and public image. As he said in his Preface, or “Grumbler’s Apology”, “I have always been a grumbler”, stemming in part from his Yorkshire background where “to a good West Riding type there is something shameful about praise, that soft Southern trick. But faultfinding and blame are constant and hearty”.
Naturally, as a journalist, Priestley often felt compelled to highlight negative things in his essays and broadcasts, speaking for those who could not. Which might lead readers to complain, as he suggested, “Does this chap never enjoy anything?”. But of course he did – and Delight beautifully illustrates his talent for evoking positive emotions, especially little bits of happiness, wonder and cosiness in everyday life.
Want to experience Delight for yourself? It’s in print (60th anniversary edition), plentiful and cheap on the second-hand market, and widely available in public libraries. If you read it, do let us know your favourite Delight, and if there are modern works (blogs perhaps) which do something similar.