The Nobel 1)Iconoclast—George Bernard Shaw
“If I am sane, the rest of the world ought not to be 2)at large,” wrote George Bernard Shaw in 1939. The Irish author was famous for his wit and 3)sly humour and delighted in shaking up the social conservatism of early 20th century Britain.
Shaw’s mother 4)eloped with her voice teacher when Shaw was a teenager, and he later joined her in London, where he earned his living ghost-writing her lover’s music column for Hornet Magazine.
Shaw started to make a name for himself as an art, music and drama critic, but failed to get any of his novels published. His first play, Widowers’ Houses, was performed in 1892, and 63 plays, many of them among the best in the English language, followed. From Man and Superman to Androcles and the Lion, Shaw 5)skewered the sensibilities of the time with a 6)penetrating view of social inequalities and a finely honed satiric eye. He often used historic stories to highlight current issues, and by the time Pygmalion came to the British stage in 1914, he had a reputation for concealing political and social debate in witty 7)farces.
Of all his plays, Pygmalion had the biggest impact on popular culture. Shaw helped adapt it into an award-winning Hollywood film in 1938, and it formed the basis of Lerner and Loewe’s 1956 Broadway musical, My Fair Lady. But the musical version could not be created until after Shaw’s death, as the writer was so unhappy with Oscar Straus’ 1908 musical adaptation of one of his earlier plays, he forbade any further musical versions of his work.
A passionate 8)Fabian, Shaw was committed to social justice and socialist ideals. Shaw was profoundly affected by the 9)carnage of World War I, and he was bitterly opposed to the war. In 1919 he released Heartbreak House, which warned of the 10)perils of trusting incompetent and 11)unscrupulous leaders with the reins of power.
In 1925, Shaw received the Nobel Prize for Literature in recognition of his outstanding body of work for the stage. He was in great demand as a speaker, and the press and public 12)lapped up his witticisms, 13)quirky political commentary and 14)eccentric humour. He was happy to give offense when required and was never more delighted than when he had the opportunity to deflate 15)pretension or highlight 16)hypocrisy. For the 1930’s, George Bernard Shaw was a household name across the English-speaking world.
By the 1930’s, George Bernard Shaw was revered as an elder statesman of literature and beloved by the British people. Even in his 80s, Shaw showed no signs of slowing down. In his memoirs, politician J.R. Kleins described him as a “brilliant speaker and provocative writer.” Shaw used both talents to put forward his revolutionary ideas for social change.
Shaw faced growing criticism for his socialist beliefs, but the iconoclast rejoiced that people considered his political aims “17)subversive and 18)diabolical.” He openly visited China and returned a firm supporter of Stalin, dismissing reports of famine and exploitation.
Children’s writer Edith Nesbitt summed Shaw up thus: “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 a dead white face, sandy, sleek hair and a 19)loathsome, small, straggly beard, and yet is one of the most fascinating men I ever met.”