Bright Day was first published in 1946 and won critical acclaim. Until the publication of The Image Men in 1968, it was Priestley’s personal favourite.
It tells the story of a disillusioned script-writer Gregory Dawson, who is is holed-up in a Cornish hotel writing a script he must finish. A chance encounter in the bar suddenly triggers memories of the doomed world of his youth before the slaughter of The First World War and forces him to remember his time within a close-knit Yorkshire community, his days spent in the magic circle of the Alington family and his first tentative steps towards becoming an author. Dawson becomes immersed in and caught up in this lost world and begins to realise that to have any chance of a bright future he must first exorcise the ghosts of his past and come to terms with a tragedy that has haunted him for decades.
Bright Day is a story and a journey laced with warmth, colour and Priestley’s trademark compassion and tenderness.
Working on two timescales the book is technically masterful. The changes in time are so artfully woven together as to appear seamless. Eventually, the central character’s dissatisfaction with his present time converges with the golden hours of remembered youth and he slowly starts to return to life and for the first time in years, sees renewed hope in the world and in himself. In Jungian terms, Dawson begins to adopt a different standpoint, where he starts to live more in the spirit, beginning to ally himself with what is imperishable and outside the ego. He begins to pay attention to his unconscious self that he has neglected for years. In doing this he embarks on what the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (Priestley described him as a man ‘on a giant scale… a master physician of the soul in his insights, a profound sage in his conclusions’) called the process of individuation: a transformative process where the aim is to become more whole and discover the real self at the core of us all. Essential in this process is confronting the shadow, that part of the psyche that contains all we hide away from the outer world and in many cases what we hide from ourselves. Dawson’s exploration of his past brings aspects of his shadow out into the light and it is by doing this that he begins to change and see the possibility of a new beginning. Priestley loved new beginnings. He saw each new day as a ‘fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning’, and it is this feeling that emerges at the end of Bright Day. It symbolises Priestley’s abiding principle that we should try to live by admiration, hope and love. Admiration of the physical world, hope for the future and a love of life and humanity. It is this optimism that seeps into most of his best work and no more so than in this novel.