Critical Context

By the time J. B. Priestley wrote An Inspector Calls, he was midway through a highly successful and amazingly prolific career as a playwright. His total output numbered some fifty plays; he also produced scores of novels, essays, biographies, editions, and pieces of journalism. Because so much of his writing was associated with British society, he was sometimes derided as a “professional Englishman” who wrote too much and too thinly about too many subjects. In any case, he was a devoted man of letters and was granted the rare honor in 1977 of membership in Britain’s Order of Merit, for his services to literature.

An Inspector Calls is often compared with some of his earlier dramas, such as Eden End (pr., pb. 1934), also a play about a family facing social change in Edwardian England in 1912. Other plays, notably Time and the Conways (pr., pb. 1937), reveal Priestley’s enthusiasm for the idea of time as a dimension of space, a concept popularized by H. G. Wells in his science-fiction novella The Time Machine (1895). Some of this interest in foreshadowing events through precognition is central to the plot of An Inspector Calls.