LOST EMPIRES, 1965
Priestley’s last novel of the first rank and a marvellous return to form after some fairly fallow years by his own highest standards. His ‘Empires’ are the variety theatres, great and small, splendid and shabby, which in the early part of the 20th century were to be found in cities and towns throughout the country and are now no more. Into them steps Richard Herncastle, an aspiring young painter from the West Riding of Yorkshire, who on the death of his mother, agrees to join a troupe of theatrical artistes led by his uncle, Nick Ollanton, otherwise ‘Ganga Dun’, a celebrated and successful mock-Indian magician and illusionist. The long narrative describes Herncastle’s life on the variety stage from October 1913 to August 1914 when he joins the Army and leaves his uncle, and the variety stage, for good. It is the author’s purpose to show the contrast between the on-stage gaiety and glitter and the often discordant, sometimes sordid, realities backstage. Murder, violence, suicide, intrigue, deception and sex, ‘sacred and profane’, are just the more exotic ingredients in a narrative which is, perhaps, the richest Priestley ever wrote. There are darker and deeper tones to be found in this novel than in any of the others (the contrast with the similarly-themed The Good Companions is stark); and there is a superb gallery of characters.
VG pages, some edge and D/J wear.