George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Family Life in London

Shaw'S MOTHER WAS UNABLE TO SECURE ANY LARGE NUMBER OF SINGING PUPILS for the first few years in London. As Lee was in the same business, he could divert to her only those pupils who would be served better by her than by himself. She was rigorous in her requirements, and somewhat tart in speech. Her gospel in the teaching of singing was Lee's "Method"; and she naturally assumed that her pupils would desire to be taught how to sing in the classical manner. By the strict use of this method she preserved her voice so well that she could sing agreeably at the age of eighty. Shaw gives us a picture of the situation: "She found that Englishwomen do not wish to be made to sing beautifully and classically: they want to sing erotically; and this my mother thought not only horrible but unladylike."1 Furthermore, she was too self- respecting to show deference to the snobbish suburban parents of her pupils, actual or prospective. Although she had been utterly disillusioned by Lee's abandoning "The Method" and becoming a preposterous Park Lane quack to attract rich and fashionable pupils, she made no sharp break with him. They continued to call upon each other at their unluckily numbered houses; and she continued to assist him, personally and professionally, in his musical projects-- elderly prima donnas then being tolerated in amateur, and even in professional, operatic performances. The break came when she was called to the post of music instructress at the North London College. Her success was immediate; and she continued to teach, in several schools in succession, the most important of these being D. Sophia Bryant's North Collegiate School for Girls, a post she held until her middle-seventies.

Mrs. Shaw was said to be the first person in Dublin who owned a planchette. From the age of six Sonny sat in on spiritualist séances in his own home. After Aggie died in 1876 Mrs. Shaw returned to spiritualism in the hope of communicating with her; and added a ouija board to her planchette. A large number of spiritualist writings and drawings piled up; and not a few were preserved by George and Lucy. Mrs. Shaw communicated with the dead, as it is described in spiritualist language, and with Aggie until she found that the messages were merely repetitive and consequently of no value to her. She related to me, with the most infectious laugh, the gist of one of these communications.

____________________
1
G. B. Shaw, London Music, Preface, p. 25.

-77-

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