John Boynton Priestley was born in the Northern English town of Bradford in 1894,
worked in a local wool firm, but soon writing poetry and stories became his main occupation.
He joined the army and fought in France in 1914 before he went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge,
to read modern history and political science. In the Second World War he had a weekly wartime
broadcast on radio for a year, but lost his job due to inappropriate comments.
In 1944/45 he wrote An Inspector Calls, but could not find a suitable theatre in London.
That's why he sent his script to Moscow, where the play was welcomed with enthusiasm by two theatre
companies. After this success the play opened at the New Theatre in London in the following year.
Priestley always considered himself as a leftist and it is no wonder that in 1957 he helped launch
the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). After being awarded several literary prizes he died in 1984.
At German Gymnasien An Inspector Calls has always been a popular classroom reading,
particularly in the 11th form.
Summary of the play:
An Inspector Calls was written in the aftermath of World War II and is set in the years
immediately preceding World War I.
The play opens with the engagement party of Sheila Birling and Gerald Croft
(son of a prosperous businessman) in the imaginary city of Brumley. Into these celebrations
enters Inspector Goole, who announces an unpleasant suicide: a young woman named Eva Smith
swallowed disinfectant and died. The connection of Eva Smith to the Birling family dates
back two years ago when she worked in the Birling factory and was dismissed there for
being one of the ringleaders agitating for a pay rise. Both Sheila and Gerald have bad consciences,
as both have made themselves guilty as to the death of Eva Smith.
The story is complicated by the Inspector's questions concerning Eva Smith's suicide. It is
revealed that all the Birlings bear some responsibility as to her death. Gerald Croft installed
the penniless Eva as his mistress, Mrs. Birling's charity committee refused to hepl her when she
asked for help and Mrs. Birling's son Eric made Eva pregnant. She refused to marry him, as she
considered him too immature at that time. So the Inspector forced on each of the Birlings
the knowledge that they all played a part in bringing Eva Smith to her death.
The Inspector leaves and it dawns on the Birlings that he might have not been a real police officer.
Both the calls to the hospital where Eva Smith was supposed to have died, and to the local police station
establish that there was neither a suicide reported nor a police officer called Inspector Goole.
The old Birlings immediately reject all accusations, but Sheila and Gerald maintain that
they all have made themselves guilty.
At the end of the play there is a final telephone call announcing that there is a police inspector
on his way to the Birlings to ask them some questions on the suicide of a girl who has just
died on the way to hospital.
Useful notes are: