J. B. Priestley was a self-confessed grumbler. “Probably,” he wrote, “I arrived here a malcontent, convinced that I had been sent to the wrong planet. I was designed for the part, for I have a sagging face, a weighty underlip, what I am told is a ‘saurian eye,’ and a rambling yet resonant voice from which it is difficult to escape. Money could not buy a better grumbling outfit.”
In the 1940s, the born grumbler had fallen in love with someone who was not his wife, his marriage was crumbling, he suffered a colossal flop at the theatre and much of his public writing was a grumpy criticism of the austerity of post-war England. But despite all of this - or perhaps because of it - in 1949, he published Delight a collection of essays capturing the wonder and beauty of everyday life.
He begins with Fountains (“I doubt I ever saw one, even the smallest, without some tingling of delight.”). He meanders on to the sound of a football… walks in pine woods… new boxes of matches… streets like stage sets… preparing for old age and the Delight that never was; in total 114 little meditations on delightful things.
I first discovered Delight a dozen or so years ago buried in the stacks of the Vaughan Memorial Library when I was a student at Acadia. In the intervening years, I have, every so often, tried to locate it but inexplicably it seems to have been out of print for several years in the U.S. and Canada. From office to office I carried a Xeroxed copy of my favourite chapter: Making Writing Simple (“any man who thinks the kind of simplicity I attempt is easy should try it for himself, if only in his next letter to the Times.”) But Delight in its totality eluded me.
Enter the wonderful folks at Powells books. Today I arrived home to discover a brown paper package peeking out of my mailbox (delight!). Inside was a 60th anniversary edition of Delight published this year in the UK. There they were, like old friends: “Detective stories in bed” and “Mineral water in bedrooms of foreign hotels”, “Locusts I have known” and “Making stew” and on and on.
Being re-united with a favourite book? Pure Delight.
4 days ago