George Bernard Shaw: “a Tolstoy with jokes”

It’s true! Or a David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest 100 years ‘prior to’.

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I was introduced to Shaw’s play Pygmalion (1914) sixty some years ago. When my mother took me by the hand and made me accompany her to My Fair Lady, a modern version of the theater performance, staring Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison. I can’t recall what I thought then.

However, I know what I think now because I just finished reading the 2004 Barnes and Noble Classics edition of it and three other plays. Along with an introduction by John A. Bertolini. Wow! I would give it ten stars if I could. It’s that good!

Shaw’s themes

are as relevant today as they were over a century ago. He wrote of class differences, war, healthcare, and “the women question”, as Tolstoy and Freud put it. Shaw was a Democratic Socialist/Feminist before those labels were labels.

He thought poverty was the only true crime and was for UBI back at the beginning of the 20th Century. He was also an “anti-vaccinator” before that was a thing. The playwright  called vaccines “natural sauce” and exposed the theory that white corpuscles attack and kill disease germs only if you “butter” the germ with the secret sauce as a pecuniary scheme. [cue, the rich get richer] Sounds about right. See The Doctor’s Dilemma (1912).

Bernard Shaw slays the medical profession. Journalists and politicians, too. Religion and holy men are skewered. Nothing’s really changed, is my opinion. People are as they have always been. And Shaw’s work is evidence of that.

The Women Question

has yet to be settled, for sure. Shaw examines the tension between men and women in all his plays. What do women want? What do men want? [cue Pretty Woman] Why can’t we all just get along? Eat, drink, and be merry?

My Favorite Character 

is perhaps Captain Shotover in Heartbreak House (1919), a satire/drama/comedy about London socialites during the Great War. In the preface, Shaw tells the audience, “Truth telling is not compatible with defense of the realm.” [cue “The Global War on Terror”]

Shotover is an old man now, retired from his work, and misses the challenge and thrill of the struggle to “live” when commanding his ship. He explains to the young beauty Ellie:

At your age I looked for hardship, danger, horror, and death, that I might feel the life in me more intensely. I did not let the fear of death govern my life; and my reward was, I had my life. You are going to let fear of poverty govern your life; and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.

Ellie responds:

They won’t let women be captains.

Ellie wants to marry the captain, for his money and his wisdom. The captain now just want to drink rum – so as to escape the drudgery of remembering and dreams (phantasies).

All Things Considered

it is amazing – how little has changed despite all the technological advancement. There weren’t even films, only plays. The Theater.

The elite class from 100 years ago
First World problems

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