George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
 


Irish dramatist, literary critic, a socialist spokesman, and a leading
figure in the 20th century theater. Shaw was a freethinker, defender of
women's rights, and advocate of equality of income. In 1925 he was
awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Shaw accepted the honour but
refused the money.

"Just as the historian can teach no real history until he has cured his
readers of the romantic delusion that the greatness of a queen consists
in her being a pretty woman and having her head cut off, so the
playwright of the first order can do nothing with his audience until he
has cured them of looking at the stage through the keyhole, and sniffing
round the theatre as prurient people sniff round the divorce court."
(from G.B. Shaw's preface in Three Plays by Brieux, 1911)

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 teetotaller. 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." (??) UNCLEAR WHAT HE MEANS.

In 1866 the family moved to a better neighborhood. Shaw went to the
Wesleyan Connexional 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).

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. 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) and THE
PERFECT WAGNERITE (1898). "...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 Henrik Ibsen had a great influence on Shaw's
thinking. For a summer meeting of the Fabian Society in 1890, he wrote
THE QUINTESSENCE OF IBSENISM (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.

PICKERING: Have you no morals, man?
DOOLITTLE: Can't afford them, Governor.
(from Pygmalion)

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 Labour party. Many of his playes 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 (uncredited), 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). Among several other films inspired by
Shaw's plays are 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 Barbara was David Lean, but for thousand
pounds Lean agreed to give the full credit to Pascal.

For further reading: Bernard Shaw by G.K. Chesterton (1909); Bernard
Shaw by H.Pearson (1942); Bernard Shaw by E. Bentley (1957); Bernard
Shaw: Man and Writer by A. Williamson (1963); A Guide to the Plays of
Bernard Shaw by C.B. Purdom (1963); Bermard Shaw by E.R. Bentley (1967);
Concordance to the Plays and Prefaces of Bernard Shaw by E.D. Bevan
(1971, 10 vols.); Bernard Shaw: Art and Socialism by E. Strauss (1978);
The Genius of Shaw, ed. M. Holroyd (1979); Bernard Shaw: The Darker Side
by A. Silver (1982); Bernard Shaw: A Guide to Research by S. Weintraub
(1992); Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman by Sally Peters (1996);
Shaw by M. Holroyd (1988-93, 4 vols., authorized biography) - Suom.:
Suomeksi julkaistu myös Järjen sanoja sodasta.

Selected works:

IMMATURITY, 1879 THE IRRATIONAL KNOT, 1880 LOVE AMONG ARTIST, 1881 OUR
CORNER; CASHEL BYRON'S PROFESSION, 1882 AN UNSOCIAL SOCIALIST, 1883
FABIAN ESSAYS ON SOCIALISM, 1889 THE QUINTESSENCE OF IBSENISM, 1891 (-
see Henrik Ibsen) WIDOWER'S HOUSES, 1892 ARMS AND THE MAN, 1894 -
Sankareita - film 1932, dir. by Cecil Lewis, starring Barry Jones, Anne
Grey, Angela Baddeley CASHEL BYRON'S PROFESSION, 1885 - Herra Byronin
ammatti CANDIDA, 1987 - suomentajina mm. Helmi Setälä, Helvi Erjakka THE
MAN OF DESTINY, 1897 - Kohtalon mies THE DEVIL'S DISCIPLE, 1897 - Pirun
oppipoika - film 1959, dir. by Guy Hamilton, starring Burt Lancaster,
Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Eva Le Gallienne THE PERFECT WAGNERITE,
1898 PLAYS PLEASANT AND UNPLEASANT, 1898 THE PHILANDER, 1898 YOU NEVER
CAN TELL, 1899 FABIANISM AND THE EMPIRE, 1900 CAPTAIN BRASSBOUND'S
CONVERSION, 1900 - Kapteeni Brassboundin kääntymys CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA,
1901 - Caesar ja Cleopatra - film 1945, dir. by Gabriel Pascal, starring
Claude Rains, Vivien Leigh, Cecil Parker, Stewart Granger THREE PLAYS
FOR PURITANS, 1901 MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION, 1902 - Rouva Warrenin
ammatti JOHN BULL'S OTHER ISLAND, 1904 (stage play 1907) THE COMMON
SENSE OF MUNICIPAL TRADING, 1904 MAN AND SUPERMAN, 1905 ON GOING TO
CHURCH, 1905 MAJOR BARBARA, 1905 - Majuri Barbara - film 1941, dir. by
Gabriel Pascal, starring Wendy Hiller, Rex Harrison, Robert Morley,
Robert Newton, Marie Lohr, Deborah Kerr DOCTOR'S DILEMMA, 1906 - Lääkäri
pulassa - film 1958, dir. by Anthony Asquith, starring Leslie Caron,
Dirk Bogarde, John Robinson DRAMATIC OPINIONS AND ESSAYS, 1906 GETTING
MARRIED, 1908 MISALLIANCE, 1910 SOCIALISM AND SUPERIOR BRAINS, 1910
FANNY'S FIRST PLAY, 1911 - Fannyn ensi-ilta OVERRULED, 1912 ANDROCLES
AND THE LION, 1912 - Androkles ja leijona GREAT CATHERINE, 1913 - Suuri
Katariina PYGMALION, 1913 - suom. - film 1935, dir. by Erich Engel; film
1938, dir. by Anthony Asquith, starring Leslie Howard, Wendy Hiller,
Wilfrid Lawson, Scott Sunderland; My Fair La dy in 1964, dir. by Ceorge
Cukor, starring Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid
Hyde White PEACE CONFERENCE HINTS, 1919 HEARTBREAK HOUSE, 1920 -
Särkyneiden sydänten talo BACK TO METUSELAH, 1922 SAINT JOAN, 1923 -
Pyhä Johanna (trans. by Matti Norri) - film 1957, dir. by Otto
Preminger, starring Jean Seberg, Anton Walbrook, Richard Widmark - movie
version utilized a screen version by Graham Greene - "I always wanted to
make a picture of it. Perhaps that was the great mistake: I loved the
play so much that I didn't analyze it. I realized only later that the
play is actually a very intellectual, analytical rendition of the story
of Saint Joan. It's not a emotional story, and it just wasn't moving
enough to get the masses to follow. Even the play, as I found out later,
was never a big popular success." (Otto Preminger in Who the Devil Made
It by Peter Bogdanovich, 1997)

IMPRISONMENT, 1925 THE SOCIALISM OF SHAW,
1926 THE INTELLIGENT WOMAN'S GUIDE TO SOCIALISM AND CAPITALISM,
1928 THE APPLE CART, 1929 - Amerikan keisari BERNARD SHAW AND KARL MARX, 1930
WHAT I REALLY WROTE ABOUT THE WAR, 1931 screenplay (with Frank Launder):
HOW HE LIED TO HER HUSBAND, 1931 - film dir. by Cecil Lewis DOCTOR'S
DELUSIONS, CRUDE CRIMINOLOGY, AND SHAM EDUCATION, 1932 ESSAYS IN FABIAN
SOCIALISM, 1932 THE WORKS OF BERNARD SHAW, 1930-32 (30 vols., revised as
Ayot St. Lawrence Edition, 1931-32; Standard Edition, 36 vols., 1947-52)
MAJOR CRITICAL ESSAYS, 1932 TOO TRUE TO BE GOOD, 1932 OUR THEATRES IN
THE NINETIES, 1932 MUSIC IN LONDON, 1890-94, 1932 AMERICAN BOOBS, 1933
PREFACES, 1934 VILLAGE WOOING, 1934 THE SIMPLETON OF THE UNEXPECTED
ISLES, 1935 WILLIAM MORRIS AS I KNEW HIM, 1936 THE MILLIONAIRESS, 1936 -
Miljoonaperijätär - film 1961, dir. by Anthony Asquith, starring Sophia
Loren, Peter Sellers, Alistari Sim, Vittorio de Sica LONDON MUSIC IN
1888-1889, 1937 "IN GOOD KING CHARLES'S GOLDEN DAYS", 1939 EVERYBODY'S
POLITICAL WHAT'S WHAT, 1944 SIXTEEN SELF-SKETCHES, 1948 BUOYANT
BILLIONS, 1948 (perf. and pub. Zurich) FARFETCHED FABLES, 1950 PLAYS AND
PLAYERS, 1952 SELECTED PROSE, 1953 SHAW ON MUSIC, 1955 THE ILLUSIONS OF
SOCIALISM, 1956 SHAW ON THE THEATRE, 1958 AN UNFINISHED NOVEL, 1958
SHAW'S DRAMATIC CRITICISM: 1895-1898, 1959 HOW TO BECOME A MUSICAL
CRITIC, 1960 PLATFORM AND PULPIT, 1961 SHAW ON SHAKESPEARE, 1961 (ed. by
E. Wilson) THE MATTER WITH IRELAND, 1962 G.B.S. ON MUSIC, 1962 RELIGIOUS
SPEECHES, 1963 HEARTBREAK HOUSE, 1964 THE COMPLETE PREFACES OF BERNARD
SHAW, 1965 SHAW ON RELIGION, 1967 SHAW: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY, 1969-70 (2
vols.) THE ROAD TO EQUALITY, 1971 COLLECTED MUSIC CRITICISM, 1973
BERNARD SHAW'S PRACTICAL POLITICS, 1976 THE PORTABLE BERNARD SHAW, 1977
THE GREAT COMPOSERS, 1978 THE COLLECTED SCREENPLAYS OF BERNARD SHAW,
1980 EARLY TEXTS, 1981 (12 vols.) SHAW'S MUSIC, 1981 (3 vols.) SHAW ON
DICKENS, 1984 AGITATIONS, 1985 THE DIARIES, 1885-1897, 1985 SELECTED
SHORTER PLAYS, 1987 COLLECTED LETTERS, 1965-88 (4 vols.) BERNARD SHAW'S
BOOK REVIEWS, 1991 THE COMPLETE PREFACES, 1993 THE DRAMA OBSERVED, 1993
UNPUBLISHED SHAW, 1996