Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Glimmers of Delight

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Glimmers of Delight

Article excerpt

J.B. Priestly had few misgivings about his public image as aninveterate grumbler. The renowned British writer, essayist, and playwright, who was born 100 years ago on Sept. 13, took a seemingly perverse pride in his grumbling abilities. He played the role with relish, describing his own sagging face, weighty underlip, and rumbling voice as the ideal "grumbling outfit."But behind the surly facade was a man quietly appreciative of the quirky and commonplace. "Delight," a book Priestly wrote in 1949 as "my apology, my bit of penitence, for having grumbled so much," is a string of a hundred or so short essays about moments that delighted him - some impish, some innocent.He talks of the delight in renting a furnished house for the holidays and "rummaging through other people's books and music," or "giving advice, especially when I am in no position to give it and hardly know what I am talking about," or simply lying in bed "cosily reading about foul weather when equally foul weather is beating hard against the windows."Priestly captures these effervescent moments full-bodied, letting their mirth bubble into the reader's imagination. He laughs irreverently at people's sense of self importance, his own included. "Like you, I am always delighted to declare my tastes, prejudices, preferences," he writes. "And probably like you too, I hide this delight behind an appearance of awful solemnity. I never look graver and more weighty than at these moments. `No,' I say, as if sentencing somebody to death. `I don't care for fried tomatoes.' "His pokes at pompousness are tempered by the freshness he brings to familiar scenes, such as the moment of reaching a ship's deck in the early morning. "During the night everything has been remade for you," he writes. "The open parts of the ship, the sea itself, even the morning, have just come back from the laundry. The scrubbed planks glisten and the brasses blaze in a new morning of Creation. The winking and hissing sea has just been invented."These private delights, published amid public grumbles, Priestly hoped would bring "a glimmer of that delight which has so often possessed me, but perhaps too frequently in secret. …

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