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Time and the Conways and Other Plays (I Have Been Here Before, An Inspector Calls, The Linden Tree)

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The book that Alan, the oldest of the Conways, is going to lend Kay is almost certainly J.W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time. Priestley was continually interested in Dunne’s theory of time, exploring it in plays and essays throughout his career. An Experiment with Time posits exactly what Alan explains to Kay, with the additional claim that in dreams, our consciousness is able to experience the whole stretch of our existence, delivering precognitive visions of the future. Kay has this experience in Act III, apparently seeing some vision of Act II while Mrs. Conway is talking about how wonderful the future will be for the Conways. Of course, this is also the experience of the audience, throughout all of Act III. Having just come from the grim, shabby household of 1937, the jubilance of all the characters in 1919 rings false and discordant. This act (like Act Three) takes place on an autumn evening in 1919 (the year after the end of the First World War). A party is being held in a semi-detached villa in Newlingham, the home of the Conway family. The party is for Kay Conway's twenty-first birthday. Priestley applies this to the standard three-act 1930s boulevard entertainment, so that act two of Time and the Conways runs concurrently with act one (only in a different spatial dimension), while acts three and one are simultaneous. All that considered, you may conclude that the play finishes before it begins, and there is no need to go to the theatre at all - except that it would be a shame to miss some very fine acting. The progression of the characters’ lives, which usually provides much of the interest of dramatic plots and is therefore desired by the audience, becomes instead something dreaded. The limited, forward impetus of time has been resisted, not only by simple manipulation of the dramatic structure but also by the alteration of audience sensibility that follows. Having seen the outcome of the characters’ lives, the audience can no longer be curious about it, and the attention of the audience can thus be focused elsewhere; it is focused, ultimately, on Kay. If he did, he gave himself a bit of an out, in Alan. Although it’s easy to come out the end of the third act, the end of the play, with a feeling of hopelessness from all the ironic optimism, there is a moment of genuine optimism embedded in the end of the second act. Of all the Conways, Alan is the only one who doesn’t seem miserable. He’s as subdued and reserved in 1937 as he is in 1919. Priestley wasn’t bold enough to have Alan proclaim that the next war really would set things straight, but he at least nodded to his own inability to see what was coming:

Time and the Conways is one of the Time Plays in which the writer explores the outer reaches of physics and the ideas of J.W.Dunne. In the most simplified form, he believed that, rather than being linear, time, like geography, happens all at once but in different spaces. As this is a play, what matters here most is the audience's general impression of a family whose initial closeness as a group reflects their closeness in age. But there is more definite information, for attentive audiences, in the case of the important matters of dating. This is established by Priestley's setting the acts in different years but on the same day of the year, and introducing a simple device (Kay's birthday) to remind us of this.What is your opinion of the way the two texts present the idea of seeing or failing to see what the future will bring? Note that both authors tell the reader/audience things the characters have yet to discover. The Conway children enter the stage at different times. What we witness is the destruction of relationships over time, as well as the destruction of the family estate to due Mrs. Conway’s inept management of funds. Each character is harsher with no golden glow of happiness on their faces. Kay faces her life alone in a job that does not interest her, Robin is a drunk and an absent father, Hazel becomes an insecure and timid wife. Madge becomes a strict and joyless headmistress, and Mrs.Conway is a pathetic and spiteful shadow of herself. The only ones unchanged are Carol, and Alan. His inability to be angry, or what his family may refer to as his inability to think deeply about anything, is arguably a reiteration of his understanding of Blake’s poem. Alan does not feel the constraints of time like other characters. He understands that the heartwarming memories of his family in 1919 are equally as important to his makeup and his life as the grim times. The consequence is a drama that has to be as carefully orchestrated as a farce and relies for much of its impact on a revelatory and deeply moving final act. Act Two plunges us into the shattered lives of the Conways exactly eighteen years later. Gathering in the same room where they were celebrating in Act One we see how their lives have failed in different ways. Robin has become a dissolute travelling salesman, estranged from his wife Joan, Madge has failed to realise her socialist dreams, Carol is dead, Hazel is married to the sadistic but wealthy Ernest. Kay has succeeded to a certain extent as an independent woman but has not realised her dreams of novel writing. Worst of all, Mrs Conway's fortune has been squandered, the family home is to be sold and the children's inheritance is gone. As the Act unfolds resentments and tensions explode and the Conways are split apart by misery and grief. Only Alan, the quietest of the family, seems to possess a quiet calm. In the final scene of the Act, Alan and Kay are left on stage and, as Kay expresses her misery Alan suggests to her that the secret of life is to understand its true reality – that the perception that Time is linear and that we have to grab and take what we can before we die is false. If we can see Time as eternally present, that at any given moment we are seeing only 'a cross section of ourselves,' then we can transcend our suffering and find no need to hurt or have conflict with other people.

The publication of English Journey in 1934 emphasised Priestley's concern for social problems and the welfare of ordinary people. The play emerged from Priestley’s reading of J. W. Dunne’s book An Experiment with Timein which Dunne posits that all time is happening simultaneously; i.e., that past, present, future are one and that linear time is only the way in which human consciousness is able to perceive this. [3] The play works on the level of a universal human tragedy and a powerful portrait of the history of Britain between the Wars. Priestley shows how through a process of complacency and class arrogance, Britain allowed itself to decline and collapse between 1919 and 1937, instead of realizing the availability of immense creative and humanistic potential accessible during the post-war (the Great War) generation. Priestley could clearly see the tide of history leading towards another major European conflict as he has his character Ernest comment in 1937 that they are coming to 'the next war'.When Hazel arrives we are surprised to learn that she has married Ernest; he is now very prosperous, and dominates Hazel, who is afraid of him. She has been in touch with Robin, who has threatened to look in on the gathering.

Hazel is said to be the same age as Joan. Numbers in bold are Priestley's indications of age in the dialogue or stage-directions. Time and the Conways is a British play written by J. B. Priestley in 1937 illustrating J. W. Dunne's Theory of Time through the experience of a moneyed Yorkshire family, the Conways, over a period of nineteen years from 1919 to 1937. Widely regarded as one of the best of Priestley's Time Plays, a series of pieces for theatre which played with different concepts of Time (the others including I Have Been Here Before, Dangerous Corner and An Inspector Calls), [1] it continues to be revived in the UK regularly. [2] Plot [ edit ]Remember to quote or refer to textual details. If you use quotation, set it out conventionally. And finally, say whether you like either or both of these works and why! Find sources: "J. B. Priestley's Time Plays"– news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR ( January 2017) ( Learn how and when to remove this template message) This guide is written for teachers and students who are studying J.B. Priestley's play Time and the Conways. The guide is written specifically for students in the UK, but I hope it may be helpful to users from other parts of the world. Time and the Conways is sometimes set as a text for assessed work in drama for English and English literature exams. It may also be studied for teacher-assessed coursework in English in Key Stages 3 and 4 (GCSE reading). Time and the Conways (1937), which explores J. W. Dunne's theory of simultaneous time expounded in the book An Experiment with Time;

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