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Lost Empires

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  129 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
Richard Herncastle's account of his life on the music hall, alongside his Uncle Nick, in the period immediately before the outbreak of the first World War in 1914.
This account of life in the Empire Theatres of English Variety The cast is a travelling troupe of "artistes" - dancers, comedians, jugglers, magicians - which include a murderer, a depraved beauty, a brilliant co
Hardcover, US edition, 320 pages
Published July 1st 1965 by William Heinemann Ltd (first published 1965)
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After some preliminary gasping and spluttering, when Uncle Nick pretended I wasn’t there still watching him, he moved off, and a minute later he had vanished into the mist and smoke of the late October afternoon. I had three large glasses of champagne inside me; I had just agreed to exchange an office stool and a sensible life in Bruddersford for some unimaginable music-hall hocus-pocus; I was only twenty and had never been away from home...

To locate the 2016 reader right away, the context of Lo
Apr 10, 2015 Dorcas marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
Ok, I gave this 124 pages and I'm just not enjoying it. So many people love this so don't let me turn you off trying it. I just wasn't feeling a connection to either the characters (who are not very likeable) or the overall feel of the story, which is rather unhappy and coarse.

Also, in case you're wondering, this is more a "slice of life" story than plot driven.

I still have a few other J.B Priestley's to try so let's hope that when I get to them they hit the spot.

PROFANITY: liberal use
C.S. Burrough
Aug 29, 2014 C.S. Burrough rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
I love this 1965 J. P. Priestley novel so much I've read it four times. A young man's peep into a smoke-swirling, footlit world as he verges on adulthood, this is classy, intriguing and sad to put down when finished.

In the last months of peace before World War I, ambitious young painter-cum-clerk Richard Herncastle's mother's dies. Not yet of age, he is taken under the wing of his maternal uncle Nick Ollanton, known publicly as 'Ganga Dun, the greatest conjurer on the English stage'.

Leaving his
Fannie Dagenais
Jul 27, 2010 Fannie Dagenais rated it it was amazing
Brilliant novel, so touching, so endearing. I read it again from time to time, and it never fails to cheer me up
Mar 26, 2012 jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A novel written as a memoir, this is narrated by Richard Herncastle, the famous English painter. Left poor and on his own at twenty, Richard is surprised to be rescued by the black sheep of the family, his Uncle Nick, a magician on the traveling music hall circuit of 1913. Becoming part of Nick's act, learning about thinking on one's feet and living with the people who made their living moving from stage to stage gives Richard experiences he never would have had in his tiny Northern town.

On the
Jul 16, 2012 Owen rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, theatre, england
"Lost Empires" takes us back into the world of the music hall in England in the early part of this century. Mr. Priestley's gift is characterization and here he takes us on a merry dance around the traps with as fell a cast as ever graced the none-too-genteel provincial stage. It is a book with laughter for itself and for its comic characters and, as always with J. B. Priestley, it has its moments of social satire in which we can all, perhaps, feel we might be at home. Like the longer, sturdier ...more
May 15, 2011 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
My brother loaned me this book as it is out of print. I'm still not sure if this is a novel made to read like a memoir or a real memoir. In any case, I found it delightful. The writing is very hokey, but is easily forgiven and adds to the experience when you consider it was written in the 60's by an adorable British Bloke.
Christopher Newton
The story of Richard Herncastle, a young lad from the North of England who goes to work for his stage magician uncle as WWI is about to break loose. Not exactly great literature but highly entertaining. This is the second novel I've read by J.B. Priestley. The guy really knows how to tell a story.
Jul 15, 2013 Philip rated it really liked it
Lost Empires by J B Priestley purports to be an autobiography of Richard, usually Dick Herncastle, an artist, a painter of watercolours. In his foreword to the book, Priestley tells us that what follows, barring an epilogue seen from the perspective of decades in the future, is the text that Richard Herncastle wrote for himself, his incomplete attempt at autobiography. But this is also only a sketch of a life, since it covers only a short period of the artist’s early adult life, a period in ...more
Timothy Hallinan
Dec 14, 2013 Timothy Hallinan rated it really liked it
Taking a break from reviewing Proust. The problem is, the farther I get from the experiences of reading the novels, the more they blend into each other. So, in the meantime, here's something completely different.

JB Priestley isn't read much these days, and I had never read him when a friend, noticing that I was talking on Facebook about nonfiction books about the theater, suggested LOST EMPIRES. In it Priestley tells the story of a teenage boy, an aspiring artist, who accepts an offer from his u
Fiona Veitch
Jun 19, 2012 Fiona Veitch rated it liked it
Set in 1913, Lost Empires is about a young artist who takes a job assisting his illusionist uncle in a travelling variety show. We follow young Dick over a 12-month period as he falls in lust with an older woman and in love with a young singer who initially does not requite his love. The heady passions of Dick's love affairs are played out against the backdrop of a murder investigation as one of the troupe is found dead. The ticking clock of the build up to war and the mystery around 'whodunnit' ...more
Gareth Evans
Nov 04, 2012 Gareth Evans rated it it was amazing
Priestly's novels are very much out of fashion, only the Good Companions seems to be in print. Whilst some of his books are straight propaganda and some very odd (e.g. The Shapes of Sleep), he can be a very fine writer. Lost Empires has a touch of Somerset Maughm about it. The plot, which moves along swiftly with plenty of incident and some notable set pieces, is not the book's main virtue. That is its easy and convincing presentation of life pre-WW1, especially the variety theatre. Entertaining ...more
Sep 15, 2012 Gill rated it it was amazing
Another of JB Priestley's magical books about the world of the theatre - particularly the variety theatre - in pre-1914 England. He's a marvellous writer and his characters really live. It's a vanished world but he brings it to life brilliantly.
Boris Gregoric
May 26, 2013 Boris Gregoric rated it really liked it
Priestley is great fun to read, very evocative of the bygone era, yet with much smiling sadness that will twist your stomach in a knot. Good, smooth writing, without unnecessary verbiage to mar the fluent narrative.
Leila Cassell
May 17, 2016 Leila Cassell rated it it was amazing
This marvellous book kick-started my passion for the days of music hall. I am inspired as I work on my new novel.
Jul 15, 2013 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A typical Priestley novel, full of nostalgia and character, humour and sadness, with the old music hall era in pre-1914 variety providing the background.
Maureen Evans
Jun 18, 2016 Maureen Evans rated it liked it
I found this uninteresting to begin with but was drawn in by the characterisation although I found the main character a bit of a prig
Sue rated it really liked it
Oct 27, 2011
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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 ...more
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