The life and the career of Bernard Show
Studying the life and the career of the famous English writer Bernard Show. Description of his public and social activities, work as critic of the art, religious convictions and scientific views. Analyzing his well-known novels, short stories and plays.
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2. The Career
2.3 Short stories
4. Position on eugenics
Irish dramatist, literary critic, a socialist spokesman, and a leading figure in the 20th century theater. Bernard Shaw was a freethinker, defender of women's rights, and advocate of equality of income. He is the first person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938) for his contributions to literature and for his work on the film Pygmalion (adaption of his play of the same name), respectively. Shaw wanted to refuse his Nobel Prize outright because he had no desire for public honors, but accepted it at his wife's behest: she considered it a tribute to Ireland. He did reject the monetary award, requesting it be used to finance translation of Swedish books to English.
George Bernard Shaw is perhaps one of the most prolific writers of the modern era. Though he is best known as a playwright, Shaw was also a respected critic, journalist, novelist, and essayist. A noted social reformer, Shaw wrote plays which dramatized social commentaries, and in 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his achievements. Today, his works are studied in literature classes worldwide and are considered classics of modern drama.
Born July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland, Shaw was given a Protestant upbringing by his father, a civil servant, and his mother, a music teacher and a vocalist. Through his mother, Shaw gained an appreciation for classical music that he later credited as the base interest which led to his eventual successes.
The young Shaw disliked organized education; at age fourteen, he decided the whole schooling system was valueless and promptly dropped out. But he had a passion for learning, so Shaw gave himself an informal education. He read voraciously, and he frequented the National Gallery of Dublin, where he studied art and history.
At age twenty, Shaw made the trip to London to begin a literary career. He made a name for himself as a music critic, and soon he was writing criticisms of art, literature, and drama. By 1890, Shaw had been published in nearly every major London publication, including The Pall Mall Gazette and Saturday Review. During this time, he also wrote five novels, published mainly in socialist papers, which were never as successful as his plays and essays.
By this time, Shaw was an active member of the socialist movement. He had read Marx's Das Kapital, and by 1884 he had joined the Fabian Society, an influential group dedicated to establishing a socialist democracy in Britain. As a Fabian, Shaw learned to articulate his ideas and philosophies. He quickly became a spokesman for the Fabians and their ideals. This gave him his first opportunity to express his beliefs in a public forum, and brought his name to the public as his writing never had. A man of many causes, Shaw supported abolition of private property, radical change in the voting system, campaigned for the simplification of spelling, and the reform of the English alphabet.
Shaw was greatly impressed by Henry Ibsen. Ibsen's plays represented a social realism that Shaw hadn't known was possible. For the first time, Shaw saw that the stage could become a platform for the communication of ideas. He despised the sentimental melodrama being produced in London theatres, and so he began writing plays of his own.
In 1898, Shaw published his first six plays together in a volume titled Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, which included the play You Never Can Tell. The plays were produced to great critical acclaim by independent and experimental theatres in London. Several plays followed, including such classics as Man and Superman, Major Barbara, and Pygmalion. Soon Shaw's plays were being published and produced on both sides of the Atlantic.
With each play, Shaw began to place more emphasis on social commentary and less emphasis on story or plot. That's not to say that Shaw's plays were not good theatre; to the contrary, Shaw was a master of wordplay, paradox, and character, and audiences were entertained by his works even more than they were enlightened. But entertainment was not Shaw's intent. To him, the world was an imperfect place desperately in need of change, and theatre was his forum for presenting the evils he saw to the public. Whether the cause was ending poverty, reorganizing government, or removing sexual stigmas and limitations, Shaw sought to confront audiences with issues of social and political importance.
Not everyone embraced Shaw's work as great theatre. His many critics argued that art was a means of communicating human experience, and not a forum to teach or preach. Shaw's plays, they contended, were seriously flawed because of their wordiness, their excessive argument, and their lack of interesting story. "Primarily, they are not plays," one critic wrote. "They are tracts in dramatic forms." But Shaw strongly disagreed, arguing that "social criticism is the most important function of all art," and that "literature should imitate life so that we might act on it rather than on some misinterpretation of life."
After winning the Nobel Prize, Shaw continued to write plays until his death in 1950. His later works never enjoyed wide success. Still, Shaw stands as one of the great playwrights of the modern era. For better or worse, he changed the way the world viewed drama and theatre. With plays like Rent, Chicago, and Angels in America, Shaw's influence on modern theatre continues to be felt.
novel conviction writer art
George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, where he grew up in something close to genteel poverty. "I am a typical Irishman; my family came from Yorkshire," Shaw once said. His father, George Carr Shaw, was in the wholesale grain trade. Lucinda Elisabeth (Gurly) Shaw, his mother, was the daughter of an impoverished landowner. She was 16-years younger than her husband. George Carr was a drunkard - his example prompted his son to become a teetotaler. When he died in 1885, his children and wife did not attend his funeral. Young Shaw and his two sisters were brought up mostly by servants. Shaw's mother eventually left the family home to teach music, singing, in London. When she died in 1913, Shaw confessed to Mrs. Patrick Campbell: "I must write to you about it, because there is no one else who didn't hate her mother, and even who doesn't hate her children."
In 1866 the family moved to a better neighborhood. Shaw went to the Wesleyan Conational School, then moved to a private school near Dalkey, and from there to Dublin's Central Model School. Shaw finished his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School. At the age of 15, he started to work as a junior clerk. In 1876 he went to London, joining his sister and mother. Shaw did not return to Ireland for nearly thirty years.
Most of the next two years Shaw educated himself at the British Museum. He began his literary career by writing music and drama criticism, and novels, including the semi-autobiographical Immaturity, without much success. A vegetarian, who eschewed alcohol and tobacco, Shaw joined in 1884 the Fabian Society, served on its executive committee from 1885 to 1911. The middle-class socialist group attracted also H.G. Wells - the both writers send each other copies of their new books as they appeared. "You are, now that Wilde is dead, the one living playwright in my esteem," wrote Wells after receiving Shaw's Three plays for puritans(1901).
As a public speaker, Shaw gained the status of one of the most sought-after orators in England. In 1895 Shaw became a drama critic for the Saturday Review. Articles written for the paper were later collected in Our theatres in the nineties (1932). Music, art, and drama criticism Shaw wrote for Dramatic Review (1885-86), Our Corner (1885-86), The Pall Mall Gazette (1885-88), The World (1886-94), and The Star (1888-90) as 'Corno bi Basetto'. His music criticism were collected in Shaw`s music (1981). After lacing a shoe too tightly, an operation was performed on his foot for necrosis; Shaw was unable to put his foot on the ground for eighteen months. During this period he wrote Caesar and Cleopatra (1901) "...I have no reason to believe that they would have been a bit better if they had been written on two legs instead of one," he said in a letter to the playwright St John Ervine. His friend had his leg amputated during WWI after being hit by a shell splinters.
In 1898 Shaw married the wealthy Charlotte Payne-Townshend. They settled in 1906 in the Hertfordshire village of Ayot St. Lawrence. Shaw remained with Charlotte until her death, although he was occasionally linked with other women. He carried on a passionate correspondence over the years with Mrs. Patrick Campbell, a widow and actress, who got the starring role in “Pygmalion” All the other actresses refused to say the taboo word 'bloody' that the playwright had put in the mouth of Eliza. When she wanted to publish his love letters to her, Shaw answered: "I will not, dear Stella, at my time of life, play the horse to your Lady Godiva."
The Norwegian playwright Henry Ibsen had a great influence on Shaw's thinking. For a summer meeting of the Fabian Society in 1890, he wrote “The quintessence of ibseinism” (1891), in which he considered Ibsen a pioneer, "who declares that it is right to do something hitherto regarded as infamous." Shaw's early plays, “Widower's houses” (1892), which criticized slum landlords, as well as several subsequent ones, were not well received. His 'unpleasant plays', ideological attacks on the evils of capitalism and explorations of moral and social problems, were followed with more entertaining but as principled productions. "To a professional critic (I have been one myself) theatre-going is the curse of Adam. The play is the evil he is paid to endure in the sweat of his brow; and the sooner it is over, the better." (from 'Preface' to Saint Joan) . Candida was a comedy about the wife of a clergyman, and what happens when a weak, young poet wants to rescue her from her dull family life. But it was not until John Bull's other island(1904) that Shaw gained in England a wider popularity with his own plays. In the Unites States and Germany Shaw's name was already well-known. Between 1904 and 1907 The Royal Court Theatre staged several of his plays, including Candida.
MORELL: Man can climb to the highest summits; but he cannot dwell there. MARCHBACKS (springing up): It's false: there can he dwell for ever, and there only. It's in the other moment that he can find no rest, no sense of the silent glory of life. Where would you have spend my moments, if not on the summits? MORELL: In the scullery, slicing onions and filling lamps. (from Candida) Major Barbara depicted an officer of the Salvation Army, who learns from her father, a manufacturer of armaments, that money and power can be better weapons against evil than love. Ironically the producer of the film version of the play, Gabriel Pascal, was eager to do business with Sir Basil Zaharoff, an arms dealer.
Pygmalion was originally written for the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Later the play became the basis for two films and a musical. (Shaw's correspondence with the actresses Ellen Terry and Stella Campbell are available in book form.) Shaw's popularity declined after his essay 'Common Sense About the War' (1914), which was considered unpatriotic. With Saint Joan (1924), his masterpiece, Shaw was again accepted by the post-war public. Now he was regarded as 'a second Shakespeare', who had revolutionized the British theatre. Shaw did not portrait Joan of Arc, his protagonist, as a heroine or martyr, but as a stubborn young woman. And as in classic tragedies, her flaw is fatal and brings about her downfall. Uncommonly Shaw showed some sympathy to her judges. The play was written four years after Joan was declared a saint.
In 1893 Shaw collaborated with Keir Hardie in writing the party program for the new Independent Labor party. Many of his players also were philosophical addresses on the subject of individual responsibility or freedom of spirit against the conformist demands of society. Shaw was cofounder with the Webbs of the London School of Economics, and launched the petition against the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde. In 1897 he entered local government.
In his plays Shaw combined contemporary moral problems with ironic tone and paradoxes, "Shavian" wit, which have produced such phrases as "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches", "England and America are two countries divided by a common language", "Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it", and "I never resist temptation because I have found that things are bad for me do not tempt me." Discussion and intellectual acrobatics are the basis of his drama, and before the emergence of the sound film, his plays were nearly impossible to adapt into screen. During his long career, Shaw wrote over 50 plays. He continued to write them even in his 90s. George Bernard Shaw died at Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, on November 2, 1950. He was cremated and it was his wish that his ashes be mixed with those of his wife, Charlotte - she had died seven years before, "an old woman bowed and crippled, furrowed and wrinkled," as Shaw depicted her in a letter to H.G. Wells.
Since the days of the silent films, Shaw had been a fan of motion-picture. He also played in the film Rosy Rapture - The Pride of the Beauty (1914). Shaw did not like much of the German film version of Pygmalion(1935), and the penniless producer and director Gabriel Pascal persuaded the author to give him the rights to make films from his plays. "Mr. Pascal, you're the first honest film producer I have ever met," Shaw told him at their first meeting and gave him a pound note. Pygmalion, produced by Pascal and directed by Anthony Asquith and David Lean (unaccredited), was a great success. In one article, Pascal was picked with the Pope and Hitler as one of the ten most famous men of 1938, but his career ended in the financial fiasco of the spectacle Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). Other films inspired by Shaw's plays include Saint Joan (1927), How He Lied to Her Husband(1931), Arms and the Man (1932), Major Barbara(1941), and My Fair Lady (1964). Pascal's co-director in “Major Barbar”a was David Lean, but for thousand pounds.
Shaw became a critic of the arts when, sponsored by William Archer, he joined the reviewing staff of the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885. There he wrote under the pseudonym "Corno di Bassetto" ("basset horn")--chosen because it sounded European and nobody knew what a corno di bassetto was. In a miscellany of other periodicals, including Dramatic Review (1885-86), Our Corner (1885-86), and the Pall Mall Gazette (1885-88) his byline was "GBS". From 1895 to 1898, Shaw was the drama critic for Frank Harris' Saturday Review, in which position he campaigned brilliantly to displace the artificialities and hypocrisies of the Victorian stage with a theater of actuality and thought. His earnings as a critic made him self-supporting as an author and his articles for the Saturday Review made his name well-known.
He had a very high regard for both Irish stage actor Barry Sullivan's and Johnston Forbes-Robertson's Hamlets, but despised John Barrymore's. Barrymore invited him to see a performance of his celebrated Hamlet, and Shaw graciously accepted, but wrote Barrymore a withering letter in which he all but tore the performance to shreds. Even worse, Shaw had seen the play in the company of Barrymore's then-wife, but did not dare voice his true feelings about the performance aloud to her.
Much of Shaw's music criticism, ranging from short comments to the book-length essay The Perfect Wagnerite, extols the work of the German composer Richard Wagner. Wagner worked 25 years composing Der Ring des Nibelungen, a massive four-part musical dramatization drawn from the Teutonic mythology of gods, giants, dwarves and Rhine maidens; Shaw considered it a work of genius and reviewed it in detail. Beyond the music, he saw it as an allegory of social evolution where workers, driven by "the invisible whip of hunger", seek freedom from their wealthy masters. Wagner did have socialistic sympathies, as Shaw carefully points out, but made no such claim about his opus. Conversely, Shaw disparaged Brahms, deriding A German Requiem by saying "it could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker". Although he found Brahms lacking in intellect, he praised his musicality, saying "...nobody can listen to Brahms' natural utterance of the richest absolute music, especially in his chamber compositions, without rejoicing in his natural gift". In the 1920s, he recanted, calling his earlier animosity towards Brahms "my only mistake". Shaw's writings about music gained great popularity because they were understandable and fair, as well as pleasantly light-hearted and free of affectation, thus contrasting starkly with the dourly pretentious pedantry of most critiques in that era. All of his music critiques have been collected in Shaw's Music. As a drama critic for the Saturday Review, a post he held from 1895 to 1898, Shaw championed Henrik Ibsen whose realistic plays scandalized the Victorian public. His influential Quintessence of Ibsenism was written in 1891.
Shaw wrote five unsuccessful novels at the start of his career between 1879 and 1883. Eventually all were published. (Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature).
The first to be printed was Cashel Byron's Profession (1886), which was written in 1882. Its eponymous character, Cashel, a rebellious schoolboy with an unsympathetic mother, runs away to Australia where he becomes a famed prizefighter. He returns to England for a boxing match, and falls in love with erudite and wealthy Lydia Carew. Lydia, drawn by sheer animal magnetism, eventually consents to marry despite the disparity of their social positions. This breach of propriety is nullified by the unpresaged discovery that Cashel is of noble lineage and heir to a fortune comparable to Lydia's. With those barriers to happiness removed, the couple settles down to prosaic family life with Lydia dominant; Cashel attains a seat in Parliament. In this novel Shaw first expresses his conviction that productive land and all other natural resources should belong to everyone in common, rather than being owned and exploited privately. The book was written in the year when Shaw first heard the lectures of Henry George who advocated such reforms.
Written in 1883, An Unsocial Socialist was published in 1887.The tale begins with a hilarious description of student antics at a girl's school then changes focus to a seemingly uncouth laborer who, it soon develops, is really a wealthy gentleman in hiding from his overly affectionate wife. He needs the freedom gained by matrimonial truancy to promote the socialistic cause, to which he is an active convert. Once the subject of socialism emerges, it dominates the story, allowing only space enough in the final chapters to excoriate the idle upper class and allow the erstwhile schoolgirls, in their earliest maturity, to marry suitably.
Love Among the Artists was published in the United States in 1900 and in England in 1914, but it was written in 1881. In the ambiance of chit-chat and frivolity among members of Victorian polite society a youthful Shaw describes his views on the arts, romantic love and the practicalities of matrimony. Dilettantes, he thinks, can love and settle down to marriage, but artists with real genius are too consumed by their work to fit that pattern. The dominant figure in the novel is Owen Jack, a musical genius, somewhat mad and quite bereft of social graces. From an abysmal beginning he rises to great fame and is lionized by socialites despite his unremitting crudity.
The Irrational Knot was written in 1880 and published in 1905. Within a framework of leisure class preoccupations and frivolities Shaw disdains hereditary status and proclaims the nobility of workers. Marriage, as the knot in question, is exemplified by the union of Marian Lind, a lady of the upper class, to Edward Conolly, always a workman but now a magnate, thanks to his invention of an electric motor that makes steam engines obsolete. The marriage soon deteriorates, primarily because Marian fails to rise above the preconceptions and limitations of her social class and is, therefore, unable to share her husband's interests. Eventually she runs away with a man who is her social peer, but he proves himself a scoundrel and abandons her in desperate circumstances. Her husband rescues her and offers to take her back, but she prideful refuses, convinced she is unworthy and certain that she faces life as a pariah to her family and friends. The preface, written when Shaw was 49, expresses gratitude to his parents for their support during the lean years while he learned to write and includes details of his early life in London.
Shaw's first novel, Immaturity, was written in 1879 but was the last one to be printed in 1931. It relates tepid romances, minor misfortunes and subdued successes in the developing career of Robert Smith, an energetic young Londoner and outspoken agnostic. Condemnation of alcoholic behavior is the prime message in the book, and derives from Shaw's familial memories. This is made clear in the books' preface, which was written by the mature Shaw at the time of its belated publication. The preface is a valuable resource because it provides autobiographical details not otherwise available.
2.3 Short stories
(Shaw writing in a notebook at the time of first production of his play Pygmalion.)
A collection of Shaw's short stories, The Black Girl in Search of God and Some Lesser Tales, was published in 1934. The Black Girl, an enthusiastic but misguided convert to Christianity, goes searching for God, whom she believes to be an actual person. Written as an allegory, somewhat reminiscent of Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, Shaw uses her adventures to expose flaws and fallacies in the religions of the world. At the story's happy ending, the Black Girl quits her searching's in favor of rearing a family with the aid of a red-haired Irishman who has no metaphysical inclination.
One of the Lesser Tales is The Miraculous Revenge (1885), which relates the misadventures of an alcoholic investigator while he probes the mystery of a graveyard--full of saintly corpses--that migrates across a stream to escape association with the body of a newly buried sinner. The story is so different from Shaw's ordinary style that it is hard to believe he wrote it.
The texts of plays by Shaw mentioned in this section, with the dates when they were written and first performed can be found in Complete Plays and Prefaces. Shaw began working on his first play destined for production, Widowers' Houses, in 1885 in collaboration with critic William Archer, who supplied the structure. Archer decided that Shaw could not write a play, so the project was abandoned. Years later, Shaw tried again and, in 1892, completed the play without collaboration. Widowers' Houses, a scathing attack on slumlords, was first performed at London's Royalty Theatre on 9 December 1892. Shaw would later call it one of his worst works, but he had found his medium. His first significant financial success as a playwright came from Richard Mansfield's American production of The Devil's Disciple (1897). He went on to write 63 plays, most of them full-length.
Often his plays succeeded in the United States and Germany before they did in London. Although major London productions of many of his earlier pieces were delayed for years, they are still being performed there. Examples include Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893), Arms and the Man (1894), Candida (1894) and You Never Can Tell (1897).
Shaw's plays, like those of Oscar Wilde, were fraught with incisive humor, which was exceptional among playwrights of the Victorian era; both authors are remembered for their comedy. However, Shaw's wittiness should not obscure his important role in revolutionizing British drama. In the Victorian Era, the London stage had been regarded as a place for frothy, sentimental entertainment. Shaw made it a forum for considering moral, political and economic issues, possibly his most lasting and important contribution to dramatic art. In this, he considered himself indebted to Henry Ibsen, who pioneered modern realistic drama, meaning drama designed to heighten awareness of some important social issue. Significantly, Widowers' Houses -- an example of the realistic genre -- was completed after William Archer, Shaw's friend, had translated some of Ibsen's plays to English and Shaw had written The Quintessence of Ibsensism.
As Shaw's experience and popularity increased, his plays and prefaces became more voluble about reforms he advocated, without diminishing their success as entertainments. Such works, including Caesar and Cleopatra (1898), Man and Superman (1903), Major Barbara (1905) and The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), display Shaw's matured views, for he was approaching 50 when he wrote them. From 1904 to 1907, several of his plays had their London premieres in notable productions at the Court Theatre, managed by Harley Granville-Barker and J. E. Vedrenne. The first of his new plays to be performed at the Court Theatre, John Bull's Other Island (1904), while not especially popular today, made his reputation in London when King Edward VII laughed so hard during a command performance that he broke his chair.
By the 1910s, Shaw was a well-established playwright. New works such as Fanny's First Play (1911) and Pygmalion (1912)--on which the famous, award-winning musical My Fair Lady (1956) is based--had long runs in front of large London audiences. A musical adaptation of Arms and the Man (1894)--The Chocolate Soldier by Oscar Straus (1908)--was also very popular, but Shaw detested it and, for the rest of his life, forbade musicalization of his work, including a proposed Franz Lehar operetta based on Pygmalion; the Broadway musical My Fair Lady could be produced only after Shaw's death. There is, however, a sharp difference between The Chocolate Soldier and My Fair Lady which Shaw never anticipated, and perhaps never could have; The Chocolate Soldier uses none of Shaw's own dialogue, while My Fair Lady, despite having a few speeches entirely written by librettist Alan Jay Lerner, uses generous chunks of Shaw's dialogue unchanged.
Shaw's outlook was changed by World War I, which he uncompromisingly opposed despite incurring outrage from the public as well as from many friends. His first full-length piece, presented after the War, written mostly during it, was Heartbreak House (1919). A new Shaw had emerged--the wit remained, but his faith in humanity had dwindled. In the preface to Heartbreak House he said:
"It is said that every people has the Government it deserves. It is more to the point that every Government has the electorate it deserves; for the orators of the front bench can edify or debauch an ignorant electorate at will. Thus our democracy moves in a vicious circle of reciprocal worthiness and unworthiness."
Shaw had previously supported gradual democratic change toward socialism, but now he saw more hope in government by benign strong men. This sometimes made him oblivious to the dangers of dictatorships. Near his life's end that hope failed him too. In the first act of Buoyant Billions (1946-48), his last full-length play, his protagonist asks:
"Why appeal to the mob when ninety-five per cent of them do not understand politics, and can do nothing but mischief without leaders? And what sort of leaders do they vote for? For Titus Oates and Lord George Gordon with their Popish plots, for Hitler's who call on them to exterminate Jews, for Mussolinis who rally them to nationalist dreams of glory and empire in which all foreigners are enemies to be subjugated."
In 1921, Shaw completed Back to Methuselah, his "Met biological Pentateuch". The massive, five-play work starts in the Garden of Eden and ends thousands of years in the future; it showcases Shaw's postulate that a "Life Force" directs evolution toward ultimate perfection by trial and error. Shaw proclaimed the play a masterpiece, but many critics disagreed. The theme of a benign force directing evolution reappears in Geneva (1938), wherein Shaw maintains humans must develop longer lifespan in order to acquire the wisdom needed for self-government.
Methuselah was followed by Saint Joan (1923), which is generally considered to be one of his better works. Shaw had long considered writing about Joan of Arc, and her canonization in 1920 supplied a strong incentive. The play was an international success, and is believed to have led to his Nobel Prize in Literature The citation praised his work as "...marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty". At this time Prime Minister David Lloyd George was considering recommending to the King Shaw's admission to the Order of Merit, but the place was instead given to J. M. Barrie. Shaw rejected a knighthood. It was not until 1946 that the government of the day arranged for an informal offer of the Order of Merit to be made: Shaw declined, replying that "merit" in authorship could only be determined by the posthumous verdict of history.
He wrote plays for the rest of his life, but very few of them are as notable--or as often revived--as his earlier work. The Apple Cart (1929) was probably his most popular work of this era. Later full-length plays like Too True to Be Good (1931), On the Rocks (1933), The Millionaires (1935), and Geneva (1938) have been seen as marking a decline. His last significant play, In Good King Charles Golden Days has, according to St. John Ervine, passages that are equal to Shaw's major works.
Shaw's published plays come with lengthy prefaces. These tend to be more about Shaw's opinions on the issues addressed by the plays than about the plays themselves. Often his prefaces are longer than the plays they introduce. For example, the Penguin Books edition of his one-act The Shewing-up Of Blanco Posnet (1909) has a 67-page preface for the 29-page play script.
In a letter to Henry James dated 17 January 1909, Shaw said:
"I, as a Socialist, have had to preach, as much as anyone, the enormous power of the environment. We can change it; we must change it; there is absolutely no other sense in life than the task of changing it. What is the use of writing plays, what is the use of writing anything, if there is not a will which finally moulds chaos itself into a race of gods."
Thus he viewed writing as a way to further his humanitarian and political agendas. His works were very popular because of their comedic content, but the public tended to disregard his messages and enjoy his work as pure entertainment. He was acutely aware of that. His preface to Heartbreak House (1919) attributes the rejection to the need of post-World War I audiences for frivolities, after four long years of grim privation, more than to their inborn distaste of instruction. His crusading nature led him to adopt and tenaciously hold a variety of causes, which he furthered with fierce intensity, heedless of opposition and ridicule. For example, Common Sense about the War (1914) lays out Shaw's strong objections at the onset of World War I. His stance ran counter to public sentiment and cost him dearly at the box-office, but he never compromised.
Shaw joined in the public opposition to vaccination against smallpox, calling it "a particularly filthy piece of witchcraft", despite having nearly died from the disease when he contracted it in 1881. In the preface to Doctor's Dilemma he made it plain he regarded traditional medical treatment as dangerous quackery that should be replaced with sound public sanitation, good personal hygiene and diets devoid of meat. Shaw became a vegetarian while he was twenty-five, after hearing a lecture by H.F. Lester. In 1901, remembering the experience, he said "I was a cannibal for twenty-five years. For the rest I have been a vegetarian." As a staunch vegetarian, he was a firm anti-vivisectionist and antagonistic to cruel sports for the remainder of his life. The belief in the immorality of eating animals was one of the Fabian causes near his heart and is frequently a topic in his plays and prefaces. His position, succinctly stated, was "A man of my spiritual intensity does not eat corpses." As well as plays and prefaces, Shaw wrote long political treatises, such as Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889), and The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1912), a 495-page book detailing all aspects of socialistic theory as Shaw interpreted it. Excerpts of the latter were republished in 1928 as Socialism and Liberty, Late in his life he wrote another guide to political issues, Everybody's Political What's What (1944).
Shaw corresponded with an array of people, many of them well-known. His letters to and from Mrs. Patrick Campbell were adapted for the stage by Jerome Kilty as Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters, as was his correspondence with the poet Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas (the intimate friend of Oscar Wilde), into the drama Bernard and Bosie: A Most Unlikely Friendship by Anthony Wynn. His letters to the prominent actress, Ellen Terry, to the boxer Gene Tunney, and to H.G. Wells, have also been published. Eventually the volume of his correspondence became insupportable, as can be inferred from apologetic letters written by assistants. Shaw campaigned against the executions of the rebel leaders of the Easter Rising, and he became a personal friend of the Cork-born IRA leader Michael Collins, whom he invited to his home for dinner while Collins was negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty with Lloyd George in London. After Collins's assassination in 1922, Shaw sent a personal message of condolence to one of Collins's sisters. He had an enduring friendship with G. K. Chesterton, the Roman Catholic-convert British writer Shaw also enjoyed a personal friendship with T.E. Lawrence, known most notably for his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom and his role as liaison for the Arab revolt during World War I. Lawrence even took the name Shaw sometime after the war.
Another friend was the composer Edward Elgar. The latter dedicated one of his late works, Severn Suite, to Shaw; and Shaw exerted himself (eventually with success) to persuade the BBC to commission from Elgar a third symphony, though this piece remained incomplete at Elgar's death. Shaw's correspondence with the motion picture producer Gabriel Pascal, who was the first to successfully bring Shaw's plays to the screen and who later tried to put into motion a musical adaptation of Pygmalion, but died before he could realize it, is published in a book titled Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal., A stage play by Hugh Whitemore, The Best of Friends, provides a window on the friendships of Dame Laurentia McLachlan, OSB (late Abbess of Stanbrook) with Sir Sydney Cockerell and Shaw through adaptations from their letters and writings. A television adaptation of the play, aired on PBS, starred John Gielgud as Cockerell, Wendy Hiller as Laurentia, and Patrick McGoohan as Shaw.
Shaw bought his first camera in 1898 and was an active amateur photographer until his death in 1950. Prior to 1898 Shaw had been an early supporter of photography as a serious art form and includes reviews of photographic exhibitions among his writings.
The photographs document a prolific literary and political life - Shaw's friends, travels, politics, plays, films and home life. It also records his experiments with photography over 50 years and for the photographic historian provides a record of the development of the photographic and printing techniques available to the amateur photographer between 1898 and 1950.
Shaw asserted that each social class strove to serve its own ends, and that the upper and middle classes won in the struggle while the working class lost. He condemned the democratic system of his time, saying that workers, ruthlessly exploited by greedy employers, lived in abject poverty and were too ignorant and apathetic to vote intelligently. He believed this deficiency would ultimately be corrected by the emergence of long-lived supermen with experience and intelligence enough to govern properly. He called the developmental process elective breeding but it is sometimes referred to as shavian eugenics, largely because he thought it was driven by a "Life Force" that led women--subconsciously--to select the mates most likely to give them superior children. The outcome Shaw envisioned is dramatised in Back to Methuselah, a monumental play depicting human development from its beginning in the Garden of Eden until the distant future.
In 1882, influenced by Henry George's views on land nationalization, Shaw concluded that private ownership of land and its exploitation for personal profit was a form of theft, and advocated equitable distribution of land and natural resources and their control by governments intent on promoting the commonwealth. Shaw believed that income for individuals should come solely from the sale of their own labor and that poverty could be eliminated by giving equal pay to everyone. These concepts led Shaw to apply for membership of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), led by H. M. Hyndman who introduced him to the works of Karl Marx. Shaw never joined the SDF, which favored forcible reforms. Instead, in 1884, he joined the newly formed Fabian Society, which accorded with his belief that reform should be gradual and induced by peaceful means rather than by outright revolution. Shaw was an active Fabian. He wrote many of their pamphlets, lectured tirelessly on behalf of their causes and provided money to set up the New Age, an independent socialist journal. As a Fabian, he participated in the formation of the Labor Party. The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism provides a clear statement of his socialistic views. As evinced in plays like Major Barbara and Pygmalion, class struggle is a motif in much of Shaw's writing. He wrote that those who were not productive were of no value to society nor to themselves, stating:
"You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you can't justify your existence, if you're not pulling your weight in the social boat, if you're not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can't be of very much use to yourself."
Shaw opposed the execution of Sir Roger Casement in 1916. He wrote a letter "as an Irishman «to The Times, which they rejected, but it was subsequently printed by both the Manchester Guardian on 22 July 1916, and by the New York American on 13 August 1916.
After visiting the USSR in the 1930s where he met Stalin, Shaw became a supporter of the Stalinist USSR. On 11 October 1931 he broadcast a lecture on American national radio telling his audience that any 'skilled workman...of suitable age and good character' would be welcomed and given work in the Soviet UnionTim Tzouliadis asserts that hundreds of Americans responded to his suggestion and left for the USSR.
The preface to Shaw's play On the Rocks (1933) includes a criticism of the pogroms conducted by the State Political Directorate (OGPU). He compares their logic to that of other societies throughout human history, and writes:
"When the horrors of anarchy force us to set up laws that forbid us to fight and torture one another for sport, we still snatch as every excuse for declaring individuals outside the protection of law and torturing them to our hearts' content. [...] The concentration of British and American attention on the intolerances of Fascism and Communism creates an illusion that they do not exist elsewhere; but they exist everywhere, and must be met, not with ridiculous hotheaded attacks on Germany, Italy, and Russia, but by a restatement of the case for Toleration in general."
The preface concludes:
"Put shortly and undramatically the case is that a civilization cannot progress without criticism, and must therefore, to save itself from stagnation and putrefaction, declare impunity for criticism. This means impunity not only for propositions which, however novel, seem interesting, statesmanlike, and respectable, but for propositions that shock the uncritical as obscene, seditious, blasphemous, heretical, and revolutionary." In an open letter to the Manchester Guardian in 1933, he dismissed stories of a Soviet famine as slanderous, and contrasts them with the hardships then-current in the West during the Great Depression:
"We desire to record that we saw nowhere evidence of such economic slavery, privation, unemployment and cynical despair of betterment as are accepted as inevitable and ignored by the press as having “no news value” in our own countries."
In the preface to On The Rocks he wrote:
"It sounds simple; but the process requires better planning than is always forthcoming (with local famines and revolts as the penalty); for while the grass grows the steed starves; and when education means not only schools and teachers, but giant collective farms equipped with the most advanced agricultural machinery, which means also gigantic engineering works for the production of the machinery, you may easily find that you have spent too much on these forms of capitalization and are running short of immediately consumable goods, presenting the spectacle of the nation with the highest level of general culture running short of boots and tightening its belt for lack of sufficient food. I must not suggest that this has occurred all over Russia; for I saw no underfed people there; and the children were remarkably plump. And I cannot trust the reports; for I have no sooner read in The Times a letter from Mr Kerensky assuring me that in the Ukraine the starving people are eating one another, than M. Herriot, the eminent French statesman, goes to Russia and insists on visiting the Ukraine so that he may have ocular proof of the alleged cannibalism, but can find no trace of it. Still, between satiety and starvation mitigated by cannibalism there are many degrees of shortage; and it is no secret that the struggle of the Russian Government to provide more collective farms and more giant factories to provide agricultural machinery for them has to be carried on against a constant clamor from the workers for new boots and clothes, and more varied food and more of it: in short, less sacrifice of the present to the future."
He included an attack on Lysenkoism in a brief letter to Labour Monthly, in which he wrote: "Marxism seems to have gone as mad as Weismannism; and it is no longer surprising that Marx had to insist that he was not a Marxist."
4. Position on eugenics
Shaw was a proponent of a position now known as "Shavian eugenics", after himself, believing that human beings would naturally tend toward biological improvement, without the need for political intervention. He wrote that "the only fundamental and possible Socialism is the socialization of the selective breeding of Man"; the selection of partners "without consideration of rank or wealth" would come about when personal incomes were made equal.
He was a critic of the use of force for eugenic purposes, and especially of the racist employment of eugenic logic. At a meeting of the Eugenics Education Society of 3 March 1910 he lampooned parts of the eugenics movement by mockingly suggesting the need to use a "lethal chamber" to solve the problem. Shaw said: "We should find ourselves committed to killing a great many people whom we now leave living, and to leave living a great many people whom we at present kill. We should have to get rid of all ideas about capital punishment …" This was an example of Shaw satirically employing the reduction ad absurdum argument against the eugenicists' wilder dreams, although many in the press took his words out of their satirical context. Dan Stone wrote: "Either the press believed Shaw to be serious, and vilified him, or recognized the tongue-in-cheek nature of his lecture."
In his will, Shaw stated that his "religious convictions and scientific views cannot at present be more specifically defined than as those of a believer in creative revolution." He requested that no one should imply that he accepted the beliefs of any specific religious organization, and that no memorial to him should "take the form of a cross or any other instrument of torture or symbol of blood sacrifice."
In his old age, Shaw was a household name both in Britain and Ireland, and was famed throughout the world. His ironic wit endowed English with the adjective "Shavian", used to characterize observations such as: "My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world." Concerned about the vagaries of English spelling, Shaw willed a portion of his wealth (probated at ?367,233 13s) to fund the creation of a new phonemic alphabet for the English language. However, the money available was insufficient to support the project, so it was neglected for a time. This changed when his estate began earning significant royalties from the rights to Pygmalion after My Fair Lady--the musical adapted from Pygmalion by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe--became a hit. However, the Public Trustee found the intended trust to be invalid because its intent was to serve a private interest instead of a charitable purpose, and as a non-charitable purpose trust, it could not be enforced because it failed to satisfy the beneficiary principle. In the end an out-of-court settlement granted only ?8600 for promoting the new alphabet, which is now called the Shavian alphabet. The National Gallery of Ireland, RADA and the British Museum all received substantial bequests.
Shaw's home, now called Shaw's Corner, in the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire is a National Trust property, open to the public. The Shaw Theatre, Euston Road, London, opened in 1971, was named in his honor. Near its entrance, opposite the new British Library, a contemporary statue of Saint Joan commemorates Shaw as author of that play.
The Shaw Festival, an annual theater festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada began as an eight week run of Don Juan in Hell (as the long third act dream sequence of Man And Superman is called when staged alone) and Candida in 1962, and has grown into an annual festival with over 800 performances a year, dedicated to producing the works of Shaw and his contemporaries. He is also remembered as one of the pivotal founders of the London School of Economics, whose library is now called the British Library of Political and Economic Science. The Fabian Window designed by Shaw, hangs in the Shaw Library in the main building of the LSE.
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