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George Bernard Shaw : Essayist

Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney

One of the most famous of all of Ireland’s writers and dramatists is George Bernard Shaw. He was born in Dublin, on Jusly 26, 1856 to a mother who was a fine mezzo-soprano. She left her drunkard husband to follow her singing teacher to London. In 1876, Shaw gave up his job in a real estate agency in Dublin and joined her in England to follow his own dreams of a writing career.

A small legacy enabled him to take the time to write five novels over the next few years, but he found little success with any of them.

Through a series of political meetings and finding new friends among society’s left-thinking politicos, he was converted to socialism and vegetarianism and joined the Fabian Society. There, in spite of his natural tendency towards introversion and withdrawal, he was forced to become a public speaker. In 1885, a fellow Fabian persuaded "The Pall Mall Gazette" to employ Shaw as a book reviewer; at the same time he also became a notable music critic for "The Star."

His first really successful play was "Widowers' Houses" (1892), and this was the real beginning of his very prolific writing career. Early plays such as "Arms and the Man" and "Candida" displayed his great intellectual wit, but his first real hit, was the American run of "The Devil's Disciple" (1897).

In 1898, he married Charlotte Payne-Townsend, a rich Anglo-Irish Fabian who had previously nursed him through a series of illnesses. In 1906, they moved to Ayot St Lawrence in Hertfordshire in England.

History records for us his dramatic increase in popularity and fame even remembering that in 1904, King Edward VII laughed so much at "John Bull's Other Island" that he broke his seat at the Royal Court Theatre.

This was followed by such notable works as "Man and Superman" (1905), "Major Barbara" (1905) and "The Doctor's Dilemna" (1906).

Perhaps the most famous or at least most commonly-known of Shaw’s works is the play "Pygmalion" (1914) which was destined fifty years later to enjoy renewed success as the stage and then film musical comedy "My Fair Lady."

Shaw's popularity suddenly suffered a nose-dive when,in a 1914 manifesto, "Common Sense about the War" (i.e. World War I) he suggested that soldiers of every army might be wiser to shoot their officers and thereby end the madness and tragedy of such brutality and mayhem as was taking place on the battle-fields of Europe, than to keep on obeying the orders of leaders who didn't know what they were doing and who often showed it by the stupidity of their actions and demands of the troops.

However, ex-servicemen enjoyed a revival of "Arms and the Man" in 1919, and subsequently he had further successes before receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.

In his old age, Shaw remained vigorously controversial, showing that his power of intellect, his interest in politics and his willingness to be step "outside the box" were by no means diminishing as the years went by. He died at Ayot St Lawrence on 2nd November 1950.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Mary Ellen Sweeney. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mary Ellen Sweeney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Bee Smith for details.

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