An Inspector Calls by J. B. Priestley

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2 ‘No, not yet. But then you don't know all about port – do you?’ – The ‘not yet’ (saying that her father is ‘not yet’ a ‘purple-faced old man’) is quite barbed. She also draws attention to his lack of knowledge about port. The Birlings are presumably not used to having it after supper, and it is a drink associated with more aristocratic gatherings. There is a sense that the whole occasion is rather out-of-keeping for the family in their suburban home. They have opted, for example, for white tie and tails, when dinner jackets would have been more appropriate for such a low key family occasion: Gerald, after all, is their only guest.

2 ‘you must take a little tonight.’ – Sybil Birling, it seems, does not usually drink and it is perhaps notable in this context that she is described as ‘a rather cold woman’ in the opening stage directions.

2 ‘I'll ring from the drawing room when we want coffee.’ – Mrs Birling knows how to speak to the servants.

2 ‘Arthur, you're not supposed to say such things –’ – It is for the guest to compliment the food, not the host. Mrs Birling has to put her husband right on the social niceties.

3 ‘except for all last summer, when you never came near me’ – An important plot point to which the play will return, and the first indication that not everything is perfect in the world of the Birlings.

3 ‘ERIC suddenly guffaws. His parents look at him.’ – Eric takes the reference to Gerald’s being ‘careful’ to mean ‘careful not to excite Sheila’s suspicions’ if he chooses to engage in any extramarital adventures once the two are married. The notion of ‘being careful’ can, of course, be taken in two senses: careful not to do anything of which his fiancée might disapprove, or careful to make sure she never finds out. Eric, as suggested above, probably feels more than a little inferior to Gerald, which would explain his indelicately timed guffaw at his expense. It is perfectly possible, too, that he is aware of Gerald’s affair with Eva Smith/Daisy Renton.

3 ‘What an expression Sheila!’ – ‘squiffy’ is a slang word meaning ‘mildly intoxicated’ and deriving from ‘skew-whiff’. This is 1912; using slang would not become acceptable in high society until the twenties. Mrs Birling has already shown herself determined to keep the dinner party ‘proper’, though it is interesting that she only comments on her daughter’s use of slang and not her son’s.

4 ‘they sent me a very nice cable – couldn’t be nicer’ – Sir George and Lady Croft (Gerald’s parents) have not graced the Birlings with their titled presence. This may be purely a matter of chance as they are not in the country, but the fact that Birling reiterates the point of how ‘nice’ their cable was indicates some sensitivity on his part to the fact that they are not present.

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J. B. Priestley
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul