On Doing Nothing: MBOSE Class 11 English Supplementary notes

On Doing Nothing
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Get summaries, questions, answers, solutions, notes, extras, PDF of Class 11 Voices (English Supplementary reader textbook) chapter On Doing Nothing by JB Priestley which is part of the syllabus of students studying under MBOSE (Meghalaya Board). These solutions, however, should only be treated as references and can be modified/changed.

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JB Priestley recounts his time spent with a friend in Yorkshire, where they indulged in doing nothing. They lounged on the moors, which Priestley describes as an ideal place for relaxation due to its calm and unchanging nature. This inactivity allowed their minds to clear and appreciate the subtle changes in the environment, providing a peaceful escape from the world’s hustle and bustle.

The author explains that their idleness was interrupted by the news that Mr Gordon Selfridge, a prominent businessman, had condemned laziness as the greatest sin. Priestley reflects on this criticism, arguing that the world’s troubles are not due to laziness but to misdirected energy. He suggests that many problems could be avoided if people, including politicians and leaders, took time to do nothing and reflect.

Priestley criticises the obsession with constant activity, prevalent in societies like America, where the pursuit of success and productivity often leads to satirical portrayals by contemporary writers. He praises great American writers like Thoreau and Whitman, who valued idleness and found inspiration in doing nothing.

The essay underscores the importance of leisure and contemplation. Priestley believes that a world more accepting of inactivity would be healthier and more thoughtful. He cites historical examples, suggesting that crucial moments in history might have turned out better if leaders had taken time to pause and reflect rather than rush into action.

Priestley defends idleness as a valuable and misunderstood practice. He advocates for a balance between activity and rest, highlighting that true wisdom and creativity often emerge during moments of inactivity. The essay encourages readers to appreciate the art of doing nothing and its potential benefits for both individuals and society.

Textual questions and answers

Answer these questions briefly

1. Why did the author think that there was no better lounging place than the moor? Why does he say that is a ‘kind of clean, bare, antechamber to heaven’?

Answer: The author thought there was no better lounging place than the moor because beneath its apparent monotony, there is a subtle variety in its slowly changing patterns of cloud and shadow and tinted horizons, sufficient to keep up a flicker of interest in the mind all day. He says it is a ‘kind of clean, bare, antechamber to heaven’ because its remoteness, permanence, and old and sprawling indifference to man and his concerns rest and cleanse the mind.

2. How did the author and his friend spend their time on the moor?

Answer: The author and his friend spent their time on the moor lying flat on their backs, doing nothing, smoking tobacco, eating sandwiches and little sticks of chocolate, and drinking from cold bubbling streams. Occasionally, they exchanged a remark or two but probably came as close to doing nothing as possible.

3. Why did Mr Selfridge denounce the author’s state of idleness? What was his viewpoint?

Answer: Mr Selfridge denounced the author’s state of idleness because he hated laziness more than anything else and held it the greatest of sins. He believed that people who waste time are committing a sin and are harmful to society.

4. What does the author refer to when he says that ‘There is still plenty of energy in the world… but most of it is simply misdirected’?

Answer: The author refers to the fact that while there is a lot of energy and activity in the world, much of it is misdirected and not used for productive or beneficial purposes. He believes that the world is in a muddle not because of laziness but because of misdirected energy and lack of steady thought.

5. What, according to the author, makes America a prosperous country?

Answer: According to the author, America is a prosperous country because of its doctrine of the strenuous life and the belief that laziness is a sin. However, he also notes that the society there is in such a condition that all its best contemporary writers are satirists.

6. Name three other great authors who have praised leisure.

Answer: Three other great authors who have praised leisure are Thoreau, Whitman, and Wordsworth.

Answer these questions in detail

1. ‘We were as gods, solidly occupied in doing nothing…. Compare the two friends’ style of functioning with that of their relatives and other friends.

Answer: The two friends’ style of functioning involved spending their time lying flat on their backs on the moor, doing nothing, smoking tobacco, eating sandwiches and chocolate, and drinking from cold streams. They made no plans, had no ideas, and did not engage in any productive activity. In contrast, their relatives and other friends were busy and active, constantly shaping, contriving, planning, disputing, getting, and spending. While the friends embraced idleness and found pleasure in doing nothing, their relatives and friends were absorbed in the hustle and bustle of daily life, always occupied with work and responsibilities.

2. Discuss the author’s perspective on ‘busy people’ and ‘the doctrine of the strenuous life.’

Answer: The author criticises ‘busy people’ and ‘the doctrine of the strenuous life.’ He believes that the world is not in its current muddle because of laziness but because of misdirected energy and a lack of passive virtues like kindness and steady thought. The author argues that those who are always busy and up and doing are often the ones who cause harm, as they do not know when or what they ought to be doing. He contends that doing nothing can be more beneficial, as it allows for contemplation and mental health recovery. The author suggests that if people, especially those in positions of power, took time to do nothing, the world would be in a better state.

3. ‘If, for example, in July 1914, when there was some capital idling weather, everybody, emperors, kings, archdukes, statesmen, generals, journalists, had been suddenly smitten with an intense desire to do nothing, just to hang about in the sunshine and consume tobacco, then we should have all been much better off than we are now.’ Who should have remained idle and why? Explain with reference to the context.

Answer: The author believes that if everyone in positions of power and influence, such as emperors, kings, archdukes, statesmen, generals, and journalists, had remained idle in July 1914 instead of engaging in their usual activities, the world would have been much better off. He refers to the period leading up to World War I, suggesting that if these individuals had spent their time idling and doing nothing instead of making decisions and taking actions that led to the war, the catastrophic events that followed could have been avoided. The author’s point is that sometimes inaction and idleness can prevent harm and lead to better outcomes than constant activity and decision-making.

4. ‘The world, we all freely admit, is in a muddle, but I for one do not think that it is laziness that has brought it to such a pass. It is not active virtues that it lacks but passive ones.’ What do you think is the author’s tone in this sentence? Is he serious, humorous or ironic? Is this tone sustained through the essay? Substantiate your answer with extracts from the text.

Answer: The author’s tone in this sentence is serious. He is making a sincere argument that the world’s problems are not due to laziness but rather a lack of passive virtues like kindness and steady thought. This serious tone is sustained throughout the essay as the author continues to argue against the doctrine of the strenuous life and the negative perception of idleness. For example, he writes, “All the evil in this world is brought about by persons who are always up and doing, but do not know when they ought to be up nor what they ought to be doing.” This reinforces his serious perspective that misdirected energy and constant activity are more harmful than idleness. Additionally, his reflections on how statesmen might have prevented further harm by doing nothing during crucial moments further illustrate his serious tone and the underlying argument of the essay.

Beyond the text

1. Read the poem Leisure by William Henry Davies. Compare the ideas conveyed in the poem with the ideas in the essay by JB Priestley.

Answer: Both William Henry Davis’s poem Leisure and JB Priestley’s essay On Doing Nothing emphasize the importance of taking time to appreciate the beauty of nature and the world around us. In Leisure, Davies laments the fast pace of life that prevents people from enjoying the simple pleasures of nature, such as watching squirrels hide their nuts or streams sparkling in the daylight. Similarly, Priestley praises the value of idleness and doing nothing, suggesting that spending time on a moor doing nothing can be rejuvenating and spiritually fulfilling. Both works criticize the relentless busyness of modern life and suggest that true fulfillment comes from moments of quiet reflection and connection with nature.

2. Read the essay On Lying in Bed by GK Chesterton and compare the styles of writing of both the essays. Which essay did you enjoy reading more? Why?

Answer: JB Priestley’s essay On Doing Nothing and GK Chesterton’s essay On Lying in Bed both explore themes of leisure and the value of taking time to relax. However, their writing styles differ significantly. Priestley’s style is reflective and descriptive, capturing the serene experience of lounging on a moor and critiquing societal attitudes toward idleness. In contrast, Chesterton’s style is more whimsical and humorous, using imaginative scenarios and witty observations to make his points about the absurdity of societal norms around early rising and productivity. The enjoyment of reading either essay depends on the reader’s preference for reflective prose or humorous commentary. Personally, I enjoyed reading Chesterton’s essay more due to its playful tone and creative exploration of the topic.


1. A man must have something in him before he can settle down to doing nothing. Do you agree with the author? Discuss. Write a paragraph expressing your thoughts on the subject.

Answer: I agree with the author that a man must have something in him before he can settle down to doing nothing. Doing nothing is not as easy as it seems; it requires a certain level of contentment, mental strength, and the ability to appreciate the subtleties of life. Many people equate being busy with being productive, but true productivity can also come from moments of reflection and rest. A person who can comfortably do nothing is often someone who is in tune with themselves and their surroundings, capable of finding joy in simple pleasures and stillness. This capacity for introspection and peace is what the author likely means by having “something in him,” which allows one to engage in idleness without feeling the need to constantly be doing something.

2. The author criticises the attitude of the general public. Imagine you are the author, write a report stating your views.

Answer: In today’s fast-paced society, the general public tends to glorify constant activity and productivity, often overlooking the value of idleness and rest. This attitude, I believe, is misguided and detrimental to our overall well-being. The relentless pursuit of success and the fear of being labeled lazy drive people to overwork themselves, leading to burnout and a lack of genuine fulfillment. Instead, we should embrace moments of doing nothing as opportunities to recharge, reflect, and gain new perspectives. Idleness is not a waste of time but a necessary aspect of a balanced and healthy life. By shifting our mindset and appreciating the importance of rest, we can foster a more thoughtful, creative, and harmonious society.

3. Write a note on The Value of Leisure.

Answer: Leisure is an invaluable aspect of life that often gets overlooked in our busy, modern world. It is during these moments of leisure that we have the opportunity to relax, rejuvenate, and engage in activities that bring us joy and fulfillment. Leisure allows us to disconnect from our daily stresses and responsibilities, providing mental and physical benefits that contribute to our overall well-being. It fosters creativity, as our minds are free to wander and explore new ideas without the pressure of deadlines and tasks. Additionally, leisure activities, whether they involve spending time in nature, reading, or simply daydreaming, can enhance our emotional health and help us build stronger connections with ourselves and others. Recognizing and valuing leisure is essential for a balanced, fulfilling life.

Extra fill in the blanks

1. I had been staying with a friend of mine, an artist and a delightfully ______ fellow. (lazy/lively)

Answer: lazy

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20. It is capable of anything but ______ and little steady thought. (kindness/energy)

Answer: kindness

Extra true or False

1. The author stayed with a friend who was a very active person.

Answer: False

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20. The author thinks that the doctrine of the strenuous life is harmful.

Answer: True

Extra questions and answers

1. Where is the author’s friend’s cottage located?

Answer: Among the Yorkshire fells.

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20. What examples does the author provide to illustrate the positive effects of idleness in historical contexts?

Answer: The author provides several examples to illustrate the positive effects of idleness in historical contexts:

  • He speculates that if everyone, including emperors, kings, archdukes, statesmen, generals, and journalists, had idled in July 1914, the onset of World War I might have been prevented.
  • He suggests that if statesmen had taken time off before the Peace Conference at Versailles, they could have approached negotiations with clearer minds, leading to better outcomes.
  • The author also mentions that religious sect members, instead of focusing on trivial issues, would benefit from idleness to regain mental health and clarity. These examples emphasize that taking time to do nothing can lead to more thoughtful and effective decisions.

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