John Boyton Priestley


As I had to choose an English book for this paper, I started looking around and picked out a couple. But which one? Before getting desperate I asked a friend of mine who reads quite a lot of English books about his favourite one and he recommended "An Inspector Calls" by J.B. Priestley. I started reading and soon I remarked that this book was worth writing my paper about. I thought, I did - and here is the result of my effort!

The first section is about the author, followed by some information about the book and a short summary. In chapter three "Disclosure and Conscience" I have a close look at the faults of each person and how they react to their disclosure. The second topic is about the mysterious Inspector Goole. I tried to analyse his role in the play. I wrote my personal opinion in point six.

A survey of this paper:

1. Introduction

2. J.B. Priestley

3. An Inspector calls

3.1 Genesis and intention of the play

3.2 Short Summary

4. Disclosure and Conscience

5. Inspector Goole

6. Personal opinion / Sources


John Boyton Priestley was a British journalist, novelist, playwright and essayist. His output was prodigious and included a vast number of newspaper and magazine articles, essays, as well as novels, histories and travel books..

J.B. Priestley

Priestley was born in Bradford in 1894 (september, 13.). His father, Jonathan Priestley, was a prosperous schoolmaster; his mother died shortly after his birth. He attended Bradford Grammar School, but left his studies at the age of sixteen and worked as a junior clerk. At this time, he started writing articles for papers and poems for his own pleasure.

During World War First, Priestley did a voluntary service in the British Army. 1919, he began to study literature, history and political science in Cambridge where he received his B.A. two years later. From 1922 on he worked as a journalist in London. He gained international popularity with his novel The Good Companion.

Priestley started writing plays in the 1930s, when he also founded his own production company. Through the performance of his plays such as An Inspector Calls, Priestley was characterised as "Shakespeare of the little man" and compared with Dickens. After the outbreak of World War Second, Priestley reached popularity as a patriotic radio broadcaster and criticiser of Great Britain conducts.

Priestley was married three times, for the first time in 1919 with Emily Tempest, who died young in 1925. His second marriage was with Mary Wyndham Lewis. And in 1953 he married the archeologist and writer Jacquetta Hawkes. The couple lived near Stratford-upon - Avon.

Priestley had success as a writer, he was director of the Mask Theatre in London, he was member of the International Theatre-company, he was sent to UNESCO conference as delegate of U.K. - he had passed a very active and long life, when he died on August fourteenth, 1984.

For his service he was given the order of merit in 1977, before he refused both knighthood and peerage.

Some of the most famous pieces of work:

The Good companions Angel Pavement Dangerous Corners Laburnum Grove English Journey Literature and a Western Man

1962 Margin Released

1976 Found, Lost, Found


3.1 Genesis and Intention of the play

An Inspector calls by J.B. Priestley was written within a week of World War II towards the end in 1945, and published two years later. The play itself is set in an industrial city in 1912, when Britain still had its Empire and was a wealthy country. The time span between these dates exists to make us aware of what has happened. Priestley hoped that his play gives society the chance to look back and to learn from the mistakes made.

3.2 Short Summary

An Inspector calls takes place in the dining room in the suburban house of the wealthy industrialist Arthur Birling. Together with his wife Sibyl and his son Eric he celebrates the engagement between his daughter Sheila and Gerald Croft.

Suddenly, an inspector appears a the door and wants to look round and talk to the family. He tells about a girl called Eva Smith who committed suicide, and he wants to ask some questions in this connection. During the interrogation of each person it becomes clear that everyone in the family is to blame morally for the death of Eva Smith. (The faults of them are analysed in chapter four).

After Inspector Goole has left, Arthur calls to police station and the hospital to check the story about Eva. But there exists no Inspector Goole and there is no girl called Eva in the hospital. So the feeling of guilt disappears quickly, only Sheila and her brother Eric are sure to be guilty. The rest makes jokes about the mysterious visitor. Then the phone rings: A girl committed suicide and an inspector is on the way to the Birlings to interrogate them.


The inspector devotes his attention first to Arthur Birling.

Birling doesn't seem to know Eva Smith. But after seeing a photograph he remembers: "She was one of my employees and then I discharged her." Birling admits that she was a good worker, but she was among the ringleaders for a raise. Because he had to keep costs low and prices high, he refused their demands which made the workers go on strike for some time. The ringleaders got discharged.

Birling doesn't feel any pity for Eva. He explains his act: "The girl had been causing trouble in the works. I was quite justified."

The next person interrogated by the inspector is Sheila Birling. She is responsible that Eva lost her next job in the clothing shop Milwards. Out of jealousy - Eva was very pretty - Sheila used her reputation to order Eva's dismissal. Differently from her father she reacts quite heavily to the photograph. She looks at it closely, recognised it with a little cry, gives a half-stifled sob, and then runs out. When she got back, she feels really guilty about her act ("So I'm really responsible?") and accepts her faults made ("It was my own fault."). Sheila always gets distressed by thinking of Eva's death and she has a really bad conscience.

The inspector says that Eva changed her name into Daisy Renton after these two discharges. Gerald Croft is very frightened about this name. Now it's his turn. Gerald met Daisy in a bar among prostitutes and offered her, out of sympathy, to live in the apartment of a friend. First he only wanted to protect her, but it was inevitable to start a love affair with her. "She told me she 'd been happier than she 'd ever been before." But Gerald left her and gave her enough money to come through for the next time.

Gerald feels bad because he was unfaithful to Sheila and he worries about his reputation. He is confused: "In that case- as I'm rather more - upset - by this business than I probably appear to be - and - well, I'd like to be alone for a little while."

The next person who has a look at the photograph is Sybil Birling. Mrs Birling is a prominent member of the Brumley Women's Charity Organisation. The pregnant Eva Smith hoped to find help in this organisation. But Mrs Birling refused any assistance because Eva pretended to be a Birling (which isn't absolutely untrue as we see further on) and told her other lies. Mrs Birling advised her: "Go and look for the father of the child. It's his responsibility."

Mrs Birling first disputes to know Eva and then she isn't aware of any mistakes made. "I've never done nothing wrong". When Sheila and her husband critise her behaviour, she defends herself: "Please remember before you start accusing me of anything again that it wasn't I who had her turned out of her employment - which probably began it all.".

Eric Birling knows that now it's his turn. He is the father of Eva's unborn child and his mother hasn't made it any easier on him. It also turns out that he is an alcoholic. Eva didn't want to marry him and she refused his money because she knew he had stolen it.

Eric has, similarly to Sheila, a really bad conscience. His faults will haunt him for a long time: "I'm not likely to forget."

After the last confession, the inspector leaves this place.

Birling is angry about Eric, who is the one he blames for this situation and he's worried about a public scandal. Sheila analyses the situation pertinently: "I behaved badly too. I know I did. I'm ashamed of it. But now you're beginning all over again to pretend that nothing much has happened."

The differences between Sheila and Eric and their parents are obviously in these dialogue:

Sheila: It doesn't much matter now, of course- but was he really a police inspector?

Birling: Well, if he wasn't, it matters a devil of lot. Makes all the difference.

Sheila: No, it doesn't.

Birling: Dont't talk rubbish. Of course, it does.

Sheila: Well, it doesn't to me. And it oughtn't to you, either.

Mrs Birling: Don't be childish, Sheila.


Sheila: But it doesn't make any real difference, y'know?

Mrs Birling: Of course, it does.

Eric: No, Sheila's right. It doesn't.

After the controlling calls to the police and the hospital the parents seem to be "right". But only for a short moment, because the next call follows soon.


Inspector Goole interrupts the harmony of the family circle and starts to interrogate each person. "One line of inquiry at a time. Otherwise we'll be talking at once and won't know where we are." After all these interrogations he disappears and it turns out that he's not a real police inspector.

Inspector Goole is a mysterious person. He doesn't work for the police, but he knows everything about family Birling. What are his intentions and what does he stand for ?

I think Goole can be seen as the personified moral. He wants to make the family including Gerald aware of their faults.

He wants to find out why Eva Smith committed suicide. "And that's why I'm here, and why I'm not going until I know all that happened".

He criticises the superficial behaviour of the upper-class against the working-class. He defends Eva's demand for a raise:

"But after all it's better to ask for the earth than to take it."

So his personality can also stand as the average of the poor.

The last statement of Inspector Goole are including the message and the warning which Priestley wants to make aware of:

"[...] We don't live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when, if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguis. Good night."

The prediction made by Inspector Goole became reality in World War First and in World War Second. Of course, it was easy for Priestley who lived through both wars to make such a prediction. But it's his way to underline how faults can end.


An Inspector calls is quite easy too read and it isn't very voluminous. I have to admit, these are two factors which makes a book in a foreign language attractive to me, at least for the first impression. But those two points are definitely not the only reasons why I like Priestley's play. And for my defence: It doesn't mean that I hate every book that has a lot of pages.

The different characters and their reaction of the disclosure are interesting. Especially Mrs Birling and her blindness to everything she doesn't wish to see is quite ridiculous. These exaggerated description of the characters are Priestley's upper-class criticism. In their superiority they treat the worker-class bad. Another critic is the false moral which is personified in Arthur and Sybil Birling.

J.B. Priestley constructed the tension in his play very well. Every confession is surprising as well as the fact that Inspector Goole doesn't exist. Most surprising is probably the end, when the game of immoral thoughts suddenly ends in reality.

One may say that this play has not a high literar worth, which is possible. I don't know enough English books to make a judgement about the language.

The play An Inspector calls was a worldwide success and there are still a lot of theatres that perform it. I think this is a reason for the accomplishment of Priestley's play.


J.B. Priestley; AN INSPECTOR CALLS. Ernst Klett Verlag, Stuttgart, 1996 Kindlers Neues Literaturlexikon; Band 13; Kindler-Verlag, M├╝nchen,

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