George Bernard Shaw, 1889

160 years since the birth of George Bernard Shaw

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

George Bernard Shaw in 1889

George Bernard Shaw in 1889 (Berg Collection/The New York Public Library)

George Bernard Shaw (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950), known at his insistence simply as Bernard Shaw, was an Irish playwright, critic and polemicist whose influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, with a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory. In 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Born in Dublin, Shaw moved to London in 1876, where he struggled to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarked on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he had become a respected theatre and music critic.

“George Bernard Shaw… has a fund of dry Irish humour that is simply irresistible. He is a clever writer and speaker – is the grossest flatterer I ever met, is horribly untrustworthy as he repeats everything he hears, and does not always stick to the truth, and is very plain like a long corpse with dead white face – sandy sleek hair, and a loathsome small straggly beard, and yet is one of the most fascinating men I ever met.”
Edith Nesbit, letter to Ada Breakell – 19th August, 1884

Following a political awakening, he joined the gradualist Fabian Society (a British socialist organisation whose purpose is to advance the principles of Democratic Socialism via gradualist and reformist effort in democracies, rather than by revolutionary overthrow) and became its most prominent pamphleteer.
Shaw had been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he sought to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist was secured with a series of critical and popular successes.
Shaw’s expressed views were often contentious; he promoted eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposed vaccination and organised religion. He courted unpopularity by denouncing both sides in the First World War as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigated British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances had no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist; the inter-war years saw a series of often ambitious plays, which achieved varying degrees of popular success.
In 1938 he provided the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he received an Oscar Academy Award.
In the final decade of his life he made fewer public statements, but continued to write prolifically until shortly before his death, aged ninety-four, having refused all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: George Bernard Shaw
Wikipedia: Fabian Society
Gutenberg: E-Books by Bernard Shaw
Spartacus Educational: George Bernard Shaw
New York Public Library
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