Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A conversation between Golspie and Smeeth early in the novel points to Priestley’s major theme. Both men remark how curious it is that anyone would buy bits of wood to dress up an otherwise shabby piece of furniture. The veneers they sell are obviously fake. There is, however, no deception in their business, which parallels life itself, since the buyer clearly understands that the veneers and inlays merely touch up the ordinary. So Priestley’s characters dress up their shabby lives with business transactions, dinner parties, bridge games, plays, films, concerts, and variety shows. Turgis even passes the time listening to orators at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner and attending revival meetings in a frantic attempt to convince himself that he is alive, although he can neither understand the speakers nor believe in the revivalists. Romance and adventure are always just beyond the grasp of all the characters except for Golspie, who has the capacity to evoke excitement in a humdrum world through his confidence, his shrewdness, and the force of his personality.

That the empty lives of the others, whatever their class and circumstances, are basically alike is emphasized by the parallels throughout the novel. As Lilian first becomes interested in Golspie when she delivers him some business papers on board a ship, as Turgis meets Lena in the line of duty as he delivers to her Golspie’s advance, so Poppy Sellers takes Turgis the salary due him when he is...

(The entire section is 409 words.)