Preachy Priestley’s Inspector Calls Commits Seven Deadly Sins Against Literature

an inspector calls

I can’t say that I didn’t know this would be bad. I once helped someone get an A* on an essay, without having to read the play. The fact that it is that easy to get a good grade should tell you all you need to know about the “quality” of Inspector Calls… and yet some people still attest it’s a masterpiece. Well, sorry, the false niceties of Priestley’s garbage haven’t won me over. It’s crap. Let’s get into my (rather indolent) explanation as to why that is…

SLOTH- it’s lazily written. Merely a vehicle for Priestley’s sanctimonious preaching, this play is stagey, melodramatic and mindlessly bland. *Amazingly* all the characters sound the same and you’d never know who’s talking if you hadn’t been told. And by amazing, I mean it’s so shoddily written that none of the characters come across as remotely real. Everyone is a cardboard cut-out with as much personality as those Knight vs Peasant mock debates Tudors used to write to weigh up the pros and cons of Enclosure. Which nicely segues into hot take number two…

GLUTTONY- this is stuffed full of bad characters– chief among them is the Inspector, the titular character and the closest we get to the hero in the play. It is with the greatest irony, then, that this faceless imposter actually comes across as the villain. He reminded me distinctly of the bureaucrats in Kafka’s Trial and Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. He’s much like the KGB invading the home without due-process and demanding everyone kowtow to their demands. It’s not clear for most of the play whether the accused are guilty and frankly it doesn’t matter- this is not what amounts to a fair trial. Believe me, I get that this is supposed to be like the ghoul of past sins coming to visit, yet as a moral arbiter, matilda chocolate cake.gifthe Inspector looks rather sinister and ultimately reflects the fact that Priestley does not know what true justice looks like. Of course, in the true fashion of badly written propaganda, everyone in the cast conveniently fesses up to their alleged crimes. Never mind that this is wholly unrealistic. No, fans of the play tend to overlook this poor characterisation, because they are delivered their own preconceived ideas by the plateful.

PRIDE- in his arrogance, Priestley is really insulting to the working class. Again, fond as he is of the faceless entity, he tries to create sympathy through the “universal” entity Eva Smith/Daisy Renton/symbolic-poor-chick. In reality, this reduction dehumanises the working class, especially as he seems to be stating that the poor have no responsibility for their own actions, no agency of their own and thus every interaction with the rich must inevitably push them closer to offing themselves. Nice. Really progressive. Very “Thirteen Reasons Why” before it was cool. All the horror is placed at the Birling’s door, but Eva (knowingly) kills herself and her unborn child with her. But she’s totally sympathetic because you see poor people don’t have autonomy– gosh this is patronising bilge. Frankly, I find this uppity attitude insulting and out of touch, but what do I know? I’m poor 😉

LUST- Priestly is in love with the sound of his own voice. Moralising and moaning and beating you over the head with its message, Priestley is determined to bludgeon you into agreeing with him. What makes this THE PITS in terms of plot is that there’s no story here- beyond emphasis on causality, there’s nothing to it. The message isn’t even powerful, half of it is just “be nicer to each other” platitudes. You want a round of applause for that Priestley? Of course, there is a more sinister side to the argument…

ENVY- it is built on the politics of envy. The fact that this was first performed in the Soviet Union should give you some idea of its political leanings (yeah, I fact checked this several times to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, this was first performed in 1945 in LENINGRAD). Not that it really bothers to explore left-wing ideas with any real depth or offer any real solutions- that would be a more challenging endeavour and as we’ve already established, Priestley was a lazy prat. Still, its origins are relevant. The resurgence of this play in the 1990s is credited as being because of its “universal” ideas reaching beyond the Soviet Union. Really, beyond telling you that people like vacuous banalities, it should tell you that not enough people bother to read Solzhenitsyn and have the memories of goldfish when it comes to the evils of communism. Heck, they don’t even like to look beyond their borders to Venezuela these days. It’s a shameful blight on our education system that this piece of propaganda is given the same amount of space on the exams as the likes of Dickens and Shakespeare, but ho hum, it’s easy and fun to indoctrinate kids. I don’t suppose it matters that…

WRATH it’s just blind rage, absentia any logic. While wildly aiming his fury at the “system”, Priestley’s drivel makes for pretty poor analysis. Literature should be endlessly complex not an algebraic formula of (the author’s) authoritative ideas. And yet, here’s a book asking to be solved in the simplest way. People somehow feel clever knowing exactly what Priestley intended them to know, like they’ve solved the world’s hardest puzzle- stressed monkey orangutan0002except this is a game designed for toddlers and you should feel a little ashamed if you’re patting yourself on the back for putting the round peg in the round hole. This is deliberately straightforward to trick you into thinking it’s clever (which is a stupid move, if you ask me). The only reason people like this is because of confirmation bias- not because it’s making any solid arguments. In my book, it barely makes the cut as literature, let alone a classic. The fact that it’s somehow managed to make it onto exams makes me wrathful.

GREED– it greedily steals one more twist… and ouch. It made me groan. The ending is a gimmick and used to disguise the fact you’ve been preached to- so I guess I’ve come full circle to the fact this is just not a very good play. Which leads me to do the stingiest thing of all with the rating and give it a banana peel:


And that’s all for now! If you thought my analogies sucked, that’s cos my brains went on vacation after reading this trash. Have you had the misfortune to read this? Let me know in the comments!

30 thoughts on “Preachy Priestley’s Inspector Calls Commits Seven Deadly Sins Against Literature

    1. That book is great. Enormously depressing in a completely non-melodramatic and all-too real way. It is occasionally funny. The humor does not make it less depressing, but it does make reading it bearable, which is a pretty good description of Ivan’s life. Well worth the read.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. I’m tempted to wonder if this was meant as an elaborate satire, but I sincerely doubt it. I wonder, too, if any of Priestley’s other works were any better. Bertolt Brecht’s play The Mother is propagandistic drivel, but he wrote some other plays that were great.
    If this is Priestley’s best known work, though, it doesn’t speak well for the rest of his oeuvre.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my goodness I wish it was!! I have no idea if his other works are better- I’d like to think that no one can be this bad all the time- but I have no desire to check after this! That actually makes sense to me- I’ve heard really good things about Brecht, but even the greats can have some duds (and I’ve not heard of the mother, so it might be one of his lesser known works?) Yeah it really doesn’t.

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  2. Contemporary writers who want to preach are very often advised to get themselves a soapbox instead of writing novels, but a certain pedant pedagogic writing style was not very uncommon at the time of publication of this play. Great review with just one little remark; Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita, not Burgerov.

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    1. That is very true. Oops- the funny thing is I thought I double checked that because I thought it was Bulgarov (which is closer to Bulgakov, but still wrong 😉 )… don’t know how I still managed to botch that! I blame it on very little sleep! Thank you for pointing that out! 😀

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  3. I saw this play back in the day when I was in London. It sucked. And the stage design did too. Our prof talked about how it was a masterpiece. Not a single drama student liked it. Ye want moralizing and good theatre read Shaw.
    x The Captain

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  4. Wow. So it’s a piece of Soviet propaganda that has now become hip again? Depressingly, this does not surprise me …

    “Priestly does not know what true justice looks like.” Great line.

    I need to get to The Gulag Archipelago after hearing Jordan Peterson rave about how it ought to be required reading. Have been putting it off because I know it’ll be a big commitment and emotionally draining.

    As you know, I did not enjoy 1984. When I was forced to read it in high school, I comforted myself with the fact that an over-controlling State that forces us to deny reality is not the particular danger our society faces. Fast-forward 25 years, and now … increasingly … it is! Remember that scene where Winston finds an old news article that contradicts the official version of history, and he obediently throws it in the chute to the furnace? I won’t bother to draw the parallels …

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    1. Even more depressing is the fact it’s taught to teens in British high schools :/


      Definitely recommend it- but I will say it took me year to get through the three volumes (I spaced it out because it was a bit of an endeavour both emotionally and lengthwise) personally I found taking my time/reading breaks really helped. But it was worthwhile and educational (and yeah it was thanks to Peterson’s reading list that I got it as well 🙂 )

      Ah yes I read it in high school and then again as an adult and it was very different experience for me (especially as I was reading gulag at the time and the parallels were terrifying!) But yeah that scene… kind of makes it worse that people have access to all the information at their fingertips. What people will turn a blind eye to always amazes me… (and that they can happily proclaim the resurgence of a play performed in the Soviet union when a quick Google search could put them right- it’s nothing short of galling)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. 😆 Well now I’ll know to stay away!

    ‘Not that it really bothers to explore left-wing ideas with any *real* depth or offer any *real* solutions’

    Well yeah! As someone super-left-wing, idk who would want to read/watch outright Soviet propaganda… literature should be fun, and non-fiction should be nuanced.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, that’s the thing that surprised me the most- it’s not even presenting the ideas well! I don’t understand why people are so in love with it, when it doesn’t even do a good job as propaganda 😉

      “idk who would want to read/watch outright Soviet propaganda… literature should be fun, and non-fiction should be nuanced.”- couldn’t agree more.

      Liked by 1 person

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