Thursday, April 26, 2012

Point of View? Priestley and Me.


Yesterday I listened to the Saturday Drama on BBC Radio 4. It was An Inspector Calls with  Toby Jones, who I just saw in Titanic and Tinker Tailor, in the lead.

The play takes place in a factory town in the UK in 1912, and covers the same territory as my digital trilogy about the real life Nicholsons of Richmond, Quebec. Read Threshold Girl.

Now, I hadn't ever heard of this play, which shows there is a gap in my education. I studied Drama and Theatre in Junior College or CEGEP as they call it in Quebec.

According to its Wikipedia entry, An Inspector Calls is a classic play by J. B. Priestley, that is requisite reading in English and Welsh schools.

The play has what some might describe as a socialist point of view, telling the story of a bright and pretty factory girl who ends up killing herself due to a series of unhappy events, all perpetrated my members of the same prominent family.

Funny, the Priestley  girl is a bit like the fictional character I created for my trilogy, Miss Gouin! (And I hadn't read this play, really I hadn't.) Miss Gouin is a milliner's assistant in Richmond in 1911.

My ebook is based on REAL letters, real people, real events, so it shouldn't have any point of view, right? Well, good question.

My play also features middle class women. Middle class women with high aspirations and not much in their purse.

I am now writing Diary of a Confirmed Spinster, the follow up to Threshold Girl. In fact, I have the ebook totally plotted out and I've written all the key scenes.

What I haven't done is stick Miss Gouin in the story. But I think I should. When I last left her at the end of Threshold Girl, things don't look good: she is marching in a labour parade and  working at Dominion Textile. This is June 1912.

I suppose I can have her at at Montreal Council of Women meeting in Spring 1912, the one Edith attends where Carrie Derick talks about eugenics (and says inferior people have big families) possibly brought as an 'exhibit' by a social advocate society lady, as an example of something or other. Or I can have her in Boston in 1912, working in a big department store, pretending she is French from France. That is her dream.


Then she could marry Henry, the Boston doctor, who in real life never married. Happy ending for her.

Scene from An Inspector Calls. Shiela Burling, Brian Worth as characters getting engaged at the beginning of the play. These characters  both play a part in the demise of a working class girl. IMDB gives the movie, with Alistair Sim as the Inspector, 7.3. It's on YouTube.

In An Inspector calls, the girl in question is a factory worker who gets fired for union activities, but who gets a decent job in a Department Store, but is let go for no good reason and who goes to work in a      cabaret-brothel, who ends up pregnant and kills herself.

From everything I have read about the 1910 era, this is pretty much the trajectory of working class women who have bad luck. (Coco Chanel would be the working class girl with good luck.) So Priestley's Point of View is based on reality. He makes no bones about it. He has his main character say out loud "This is what happens to millions  upon million of women."

The Social Evil...Prostitution, it looms large in the life of EVERY woman in 1910, poor, middle class, and rich (who aim to eradicate it without empowering the lower class women involved- quite a trick) - and it is a raison d'etre of the Suffrage Movement in the UK, US and Canada.

Christobel Pankhurst wrote a pamphlet claiming that prostitution would be eradicated should women get the vote.

Men, she claimed, should be as chaste as women.