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George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

George Bernard Shaw

Shaw was an ardent advocate of socialism, a prominent anti-war activist, and a great novelist and playwright only comparable to William Shakespeare.

He was born on July 26, in Dublin, Ireland and grew up with his two sisters in a relatively poor family. Shaw finished his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School. He started to work as a junior clerk at the age of fifteen. In 1876 he left Dublin to join his mother and his sisters in London, England. There, his mother was working as a music and singing teacher, and his sister Lucy was a light opera singer. They provided him with a Pound a week to continue his education. Shaw educated himself at the British Museum and became a leading drama and music critic. His articles appeared in many newspapers and magazines of his time. He especially was under the influence of the Norwegian realist playwright Henrik Ibsen. Shaw revolutionized London theatre which was a place of frivolous, light romantic Victorian values entertainment. He wrote plays in order to show the deeply flawed capitalism. He savagely attacked hypocrisy, lies and corruption of the system. His plays are mostly a combination of drama and comedy aimed at social correction. Shaw illustrated social and moral problems with ironic tones and paradoxes, which characterizes his writings with a sense of humour unmatched by his contemporaries.

In 1882, he joined the Social Democratic Federation and became familiar with the works of Karl Marx. In 1884, he joined the Fabian Society and became friends with Herbert George Welles, Sidney and Beatrice Webb and Graham Wallas. Fabian Society was a middle-class socialist group promoting gradual social reforms. He met fellow activist Charlotte Payne-Townshead, a wealthy Irish woman and they married in 1898. In 1885, Shaw joined the Socialist League. In 1893, he participated in the Bradford Conference that led to the formation of the Independent Labour Party, which grew to Labour Party in 1906.

In 1895, Shaw founded the London School of Economics and Political Science.

While the majority of the public and many socialists were ignorant and even in favour of World War I, Shaw strongly opposed the war and condemned it in a series of his articles which appeared in different newspapers under the title of, “Common Sense About The War” in 1914. In the same year, in which his popularity plummeted due to his brave stand against this inter-imperialist war, he played in the film, “Rosy Rapture – The Pride of the Beauty”.

In 1923, Shaw wrote Saint Joan about the life and death of Joan of Arc and is believed to have led to his Nobel Prize of Literature in 1925. He accepted the honour but refused the money.

In the early 1930s, Shaw was invited to the Soviet Union and met with Stalin and other Soviet leaders. He visited the country and was impressed by the progress he saw in the life of the ordinary people. He was always a fervent applicant of the common ownership of the means of production and land, for free healthcare, education and housing for all, for equal economic, political and social rights for all women and men of all races in the Great Britain and all around the world. And yet in spite of imperialists’ aggressions and embargos, what he witnessed in the Soviet Union was a kind of fulfillment of his ideas and his desires.

In return to London, Shaw disappointed with the policies of different social democrats, recession, fascism, constant wars and dire living conditions of majority of the people, he became an ardent supporter of the socialist system in the Soviet Union and remained committed to the socialist cause until his death in 1950.

In 1938, Shaw received an Oscar for writing an adapted screenplay for the British film Pygmalion. In 1956, musical play My Fair Lady, based upon Pygmalion, set a new record for the longest run of any major theatre production in history. In 1964, an Academy Award-Winning movie, My Fair Lady, also based upon Pygmalion, which Starred by Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison was made.

Shaw is known to have written more than 250,000 letters during his life time. His complete works appeared in 36 volumes between 1930 and 1950. The International Shaw Society yields a full chronological listing of Shaw’s works.

Here are some of his writings:

  • Immaturity, 1879

  • The Irrational Knot, 1880

  • An Unsocial Socialist, 1883

  • Fabian Essays on Socialism, 1889

  • Mrs Warren’s Profession, 1893

  • The Impossibilities of Anarchism, 1893

  • Arms and Man, 1894

  • Candida, 1894

  • The man of Destiny, 1895

  • The Devil’s Disciple, 1897

  • The Philanderer, 1898

  • The Perfect Wagnerite, 1898

  • Caesar and Cleopatra, 1898

  • Captain Brassbound’s Conversation, 1899

  • The Admirable Bashville, 1901

  • Man and Superman, 1902- 3

  • John Bull’s Other Island, 1904

  • Major Barbara, 1905

  • The Doctor’s Dilemma, 1906

  • Getting Married, 1908

  • The Glimpse of Reality, 1909

  • Misalliance, 1910

  • Socialism and Superior Brains, 1910

  • Fanny’s First Play, 1911

  • Overruled, 1912

  • Androcles and the Lion, 1912

  • Great Catherine, 1913

  • Peace Conference Hints, 1919 Annajanska, the Bolshevik Empress, 1917

  • Heartbreak House, 1920

  • Back to Methuselah, 1922

  • Imprisonment, 1925

  • The Socialism of Shaw, 1926

  • The Apple Cart, 1929

  • What I Really Wrote About the War, 1931

  • Too True to be Good, 1932

  • American Boobs, 1933

  • The Millionaires, 1936, (Filmed in1961, starred by Sophia Loren, Peter Sellers…)

  • In Good King Charles’s Golden Days, 1939

  • Everybody’s Political What’s What, 1944

  • Sixteen Self-sketches, 1948

  • Farfetched Fables, 1950

  • More

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