An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley

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7 ‘except of course in Russia, which will always be behindhand naturally.’ – The context almost demands an ironic note (and it is worth recalling that An Inspector Calls premiered in the Soviet Union). The view that the Russian Tsarist Empire was ‘behindhand’ – out of date politically and socially – was common in Victorian England, and is partly related to the fact that Britain had fought a war against Russia in the middle years of the nineteenth century. The presumed irony here suggests that Russia will, in fact, have progressed further than other European countries by the 1940s when the play was written and performed. Such positive evaluations of Stalin’s USSR are difficult to stomach now that the full horrors of that regime are well-known, but in the war years they were not widely recognised and communist propaganda was quite effective at keeping the truth hidden. Many sensible and intelligent people of the day had a surprisingly positive view of ‘Uncle Joe Stalin’, who had been an important ally in the defeat of Nazi Germany.

7 ‘We can't let these Bernard Shaws and H. G. Wellses do all the talking. We hard-headed practical business men must say something sometime.’ – Both the noted Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and the father of science-fiction H. G. Wells (1866-1946) were well-known and outspoken socialists. Birling portrays his opposition to their politics as simply a matter of his character and experience as a ‘hard-headed practical’ businessman. The implication is that he will fight hard to protect his class interests whatever arguments are brought to bear, exactly as Marxist theory would predict.

7 ‘Eric – I want you a minute.’ – The audience can assume this is a ploy to allow Birling and Gerald to talk privately.

8 ‘Don't blame her. She comes from an old country family – landed people and so forth – and so it's only natural.’ – The implication is that Sir George Croft (who is presumably a ‘hard-headed practical’ businessman like Birling) has married into aristocracy. Birling, too, has married ‘above’ himself. Such unions were fairly common, given that ‘old country’ families were being economically outstripped by the middle-classes and needed such alliances to maintain their income levels. The ‘hard-headed practical’ businessman would receive a higher social status – and perhaps a title – in return for his money. This sequence of dialogue, in fact, reads like a text-book study of the ‘Rise of the Bourgeoisie’: one of Marx’s key ideas is that a largely agrarian, feudal society will inevitably be supplanted by an industrial one in which the bourgeoisie replace the aristocracy as the ruling class; after that, and equally inevitably, the proletarian workforce will eventually supplant the bourgeoisie to bring about communism.

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J. B. Priestley