Published by Valancourt Books on July 3, 2018
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Gothic, Horror, Mystery, Noir, Psychological Horror, Suspense, Thriller
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'Priestley is one of the finest and most popular storytellers of the last hundred years.' - Dame Margaret Drabble
'Abundant life flows through J.B. Priestley's books. He was the last of his kind.' - Stan Barstow
'J.B. Priestley is one of our literary icons of the 20th century. And it is time that we all became re-acquainted with his genius.' - Dame Judi Dench
Philip and Margaret Waverton and their friend Roger Penderel are driving through the mountains of Wales when a torrential downpour washes away the road and forces them to seek shelter for the night. They take refuge in an ancient, crumbling mansion inhabited by the strange and sinister Femm family and their brutish servant Morgan. Determined to make the best of the circumstances, the benighted travellers drink, talk, and play games to pass the time while the storm rages outside. But as the night progresses and tensions rise, dangerous and unexpected secrets emerge. On the house's top floor are two locked doors; behind one of them lies the mysterious, unseen Sir Roderick Femm, and behind the other lurks an unspeakable terror. Which is more deadly: the apocalyptic storm outside the house or the unknown horrors that await within? And will any of them survive the night?
Benighted (1927), a classic 'old dark house' novel of psychological terror, was the second novel by J. B. Priestley (1894-1984), better known for his classics The Good Companions (1929), Angel Pavement (1930) and Bright Day (1946). The basis for James Whale's 1932 film The Old Dark House, Benighted returns to print for the first time in fifty years. This edition includes the unabridged text of the first British edition, a new introduction by Orrin Grey, and a reproduction of the rare jacket art of the 1927 Heinemann edition.
BENIGHTED, by J.B. Priestly, is a novel that was originally published in 1927, re-issued by Valancourt Books in 2013, and reprinted in 2018. This version includes an introduction by Orrin Grey. There is a film based on this novel entitled The Old Dark House, that was released by Universal Pictures in 1932–at the height of the “dark house” phase in literature and film.
“. . . It’s our flesh . . . the jellied stuff that rots so easily, which quivers and creeps, goes goose with fright; but our bones stand up and don’t give a damn . . . “
The story begins in the classic fashion with a group of people caught out in a sudden storm. The severity is such that sudden landslides begin to cover and wash away parts of the road they are traveling. Here we have Philip and his wife, Margaret Waverton, and friend, Roger Penderel.
“. . . Mrs. Waverton, one of those pale and clear and terrifically educated women who knew everything and knew nothing, never actually breaking through into the real world . . . “
They spot some lights coming from an ancient looking, large edifice, and it is determined that they will need to ask for shelter there, despite the unsettling feeling they all have.
“. . . it was in the nature of things to go wrong . . . “
Priestly sets this atmosphere with the utmost precision. Between the raging elements outdoors, and the unknown, yet somehow sinister, facade of the building in front of them, that is quickly arrived at. The looming structure conjures up all kinds of horrific images in the travelers, even before they get near it.
“. . . Suppose the people inside were dead, all stretched out with the lights quietly burning above them . . .”
While the atmosphere is absolutely essential to this novel, so too are the personalities of the characters. You have your “everyday” people (the travelers), and the mysterious residents–the Femm family–in the gothic mansion. Their quirks, lack of social graces that most adhere to, and general “oddness” immediately have our visitors wondering if perhaps they might have been better off chancing the water-washed roads, instead.
“. . . Perhaps this is the fire, and we’re merely taking the bags out of the frying-pan . . . “
Eventually, the reluctantly-admitted trio finds themselves confronted by yet another couple seeking shelter from the storm, and it is at this junction that the real mysteries of the house begin to be revealed. Through cryptic comments, the jumpy, inhospitable hosts, and noises that do not come from the raging storm, the characters realize that there are more things to be frightened of “in” their supposed sanctuary . . .
“. . . ordinary life’s bad enough, but it’s a prince to the stuff we spin out of our rotten unconsciousnesses every night . . . “
When you consider the year this book was first released, you can appreciate just how well it has stood the test of time. In between bought of misgiving and and uncertain terror, we have conversations and introspection on the society and behaviors of people, in general. Even the comic relief throughout the novel are about things we can still relate to.
“. . . People wonder what’s the matter with the world these days . . . They forget that all the best fellows, the men who’d be in their prime now, . . . are dead . . .”
Overall, this is an excellent example of a Gothic “Dark House” story. The atmosphere, in my opinion, is flawlessly set, as is the tension that escalates throughout the entirety of the novel. The banter between the characters has moments of humor interspersed between the apprehension and terror of their forced-upon situation, as it unfolds. Another great novel brought back to the attention of readers, through it’s new publication by Valancourt Books.
About J.B. Priestly
John Boynton Priestley, the son of a schoolmaster, was born in Bradford in September 1894, and after schooling he worked for a time in the local wool trade. Following the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, Priestley joined the British Army, and was sent to France –in 1915 taking part in the Battle of Loos. After being wounded in 1917 Priestley returned to England for six months; then, after going back to the Western Front he suffered the consequences of a German gas attack, and, treated at Rouen, he was declared unfit for active service and was transferred to the Entertainers Section of the British Army.
When Priestley left the army he studied at Cambridge University, where he completed a degree in Modern History and Political Science. Subsequently he found work as theatre reviewer with the Daily News, and also contributed to the Spectator, the Challenge and Nineteenth Century. His earliest books included The English Comic Characters (1925), The English Novel (1927), and English Humour (1928). His breakthrough came with the immensely popular novel The Good Companions, published in 1929, and Angel Pavement followed in 1930. He emerged, too, as a successful dramatist with such plays as Dangerous Corner (1932), Time and the Conways (1937), When We Are Married (1938) and An Inspector Calls (1947).
The publication of English Journey in 1934 emphasised Priestley’s concern for social problems and the welfare of ordinary people.
During the Second World War Priestley became a popular and influential broadcaster with his famous Postscripts that followed the nine o’clock news BBC Radio on Sunday evenings. Starting on 5th June 1940, Priestley built up such a following that after a few months it was estimated that around 40 per cent of the adult population in Britain was listening to the programme.
Some members of the Conservative Party, including Winston Churchill, expressed concern that Priestley might be expressing left-wing views on the programme, and, to his dismay, Priestley was dropped after his talk on 20th October 1940.
After the war Priestley continued his writing, and his work invariably provoked thought, and his views were always expressed in his blunt Yorkshire style.
His prolific output continued right up to his final years, and to the end he remained the great literary all-rounder. His favourite amiong his books was for many years the novel Bright Day, though he later said he had come to prefer The Image Men.
It should not be overlooked that Priestley was an outstanding essayist, and many of his short pieces best capture his passions and his great talent and his mastery of the English language. He set a fine example for any would-be author.