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Britton, Lionel, (b. 1887) | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Britton, Lionel, (b. 1887)

Historical Note:

Lionel Britton was a member of England's working class in the early 20th century, and without formal academic training available to him, he educated himself, mainly by reading the books he was delivering while working as an errand boy to a bookseller. 

Britton originally wrote poetry, but turned his attention to the drama, writing his first play, Fang or The Resentful Employee, at the age of seventeen.  Britton's leap to national attention can principally be credited to the support of George Bernard Shaw.  His endorsement led to the publication of Brain in 1930, and of Hunger and Love, in 1931.  Despite Shaw's praise and an introduction by Bertrand Russell, Hunger and Love met with the same mixed reactions and limited success received by Brain.

Britton's next play, Spacetime Inn, has the deistinction of being the only play to be performed in the House of Commons.  However, it was denied a license for including Queen Victoria as one of the characters. 

Although he continued to write for the remainder of his life, Animal Ideas proved to be Britton's final major published work.  The negative response to this play combined with his constant refusal to alter his manuscripts in any way complicated Britton's relationships with publishers.  He regularly wrote essays for the New Clarion and also translated a few Russian texts, but no original work of Britton's was accepted for print after 1935. 

Following the lack of literary or professional success, Britton lived quietly, and supported himself by renting out rooms in his home.  He still occasionally corresponded with his friends, but remained isolated.  Britton no longer aspired to publish, but he continued to write until his death in January 1971.

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