The Irish legend, George Bernard Shaw was a dramatist and a literary critic in addition to being a socialist spokesman. His valuable contributions to literature won him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925. While Shaw accepted the honor, he refused the money. George Bernard Shaw was a free spirit and a freethinker who advocated women’s rights and equality on income.
George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin on July 26, 1856. His father, George Carr Shaw was in the wholesale grain trading business and his mother, Lucinda Elisabeth Shaw was the daughter of an impoverished landowner. A young George led a distressed childhood. His alcoholic father remained drunk most of the time. It was due to this that Shaw abstained from alcohol throughout his lifetime. During the course of schooling Shaw attended Wesleyan Connexional School, Dublin’s Central Model School and Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School where he ended his education. He first began working as a junior clerk at the age of 15. In 1876, Shaw went to live with his mother and sister in London. He did not return to Ireland for almost 30 years.
Shaw turned to literature and began his career by writing theatre, criticism, music and novels one of which was the semi-autobiographical, Immaturity. However, his early efforts gained neither recognition nor success. From 1885 to 1911, Shaw served on the executive committee of the Fabian Society, a middle class socialist group.
1895 onwards, Shaw’s work began appearing in significant publications. He wrote drama criticism for the Saturday Review. These pieces were later compiled in the collection Our Theatres In The Nineties published in 1932. In addition to being a drama critic, George Bernard Shaw also wrote criticism on music, drama and art in various publications such as Dramatic Review (1885-1886), Our Corner (1885-1886), The Pall Mall Gazette (1885-1888), The World (1886-1894), and The Star (1888-1890). His criticism on music has been compiled in a number of collections such as Shaw’s Music appearing in 1981, The Perfect Wagnerite (1898) and Caesar And Cleopatra published in 1901.
George Bernard Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townshend in 1898. Charlotte was a wealthy woman from an upper class background. The couple settled in Hertfordshire village of Ayot St. Lawrence in 1906. Although Shaw was occasionally linked with other women, he remained with Charlotte until her death. One of Shaw’s known linkage to other women include a series of passionate correspondences with the widowed actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
Most of Shaw’s early plays described the problems of capitalism and explored existing moral and social problems. One of these plays is the Widower’s Houses (1892). Unfortunately, these early efforts were not very well received. Some later following works such as Candida and John Bull’s Other Island (1904) and Major Barbara proved to be in better interest of Shaw. His much famous work, Pygmalion was originally written for Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Pygmalion was later adapted into two films and a musical.
In 1914, Shaw’s popularity declined significantly when he wrote the essay Common Sense about The War which was considered unpatriotic. However, he was accepted once again with the publication of Saint Joan in 1924. An author to more than 50 plays, George Bernard Shaw died on November 2, 1950 in Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire.