George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 27
Shaw's Letters to the Webbs: 1891-1915

THE MOST SIGNIFICANT AND REVEALING COLLECTION OF LETTERS WRITTEN BY Shaw, which until now remained unpublished, is the correspondence with Sidney Webb (Lord Passfield) and his wife, who preferred to be remembered simply as Beatrice Webb. These letters were written to intimate and lifelong friends over a period of more than half a century; and give an authentic picture of the writer, as author, politician, Fabian, publicist, and man, divested of the domino of the harlequin G. B. S. The letters to Sidney are almost exclusively confined to political affairs, the activities of the Fabian Society, dealings with election and campaign problems, and are uniformly serious and factual in character. The letters to Beatrice are more intimate, personal, and revealing; and deal with the complex relationships with the editorial policy of The New Statesman, Shaw's illnesses, complicated by accidents, courtship, and marriage, and occasionally with important Fabian Socialist issues and problems consequent upon two devastating wars. In these letters to Beatrice, whose "gypsy" charm, feminine intuition, and sympathetic insight inspired in return sincere and uninhibited expression of thought and feeling, the puzzling and provocative Kelt reveals his true temperament and character without comic dissimulation or disingenuous disguise.

In due course of time, a comprehensive biographical study of the Webbs, both lives and letters, will be prepared under the auspices of the Passfield Trust. In view of this assured contingency, the letters selected for inclusion in the present work will not be edited, to avoid usurping the functions and prerogatives of the future biographer or biographers of the Webbs, and editor of the letters and documents in the custody of the Passfield Trust. For the letters and selections therefrom in the present work, the interested reader will encounter no difficulty in obtaining the information ordinarily supplied by an editor, as one of the considerations in making the choice of epistolary material was to reduce the amount of desiderated editorial commentary to a minimum.1

It is, perhaps, not surprising that the first letter in this collection is dated twelve years after the first meeting of Shaw and Webb. Had these been Webb

____________________
1
The letters fall into three categories: to Sidney, to Beatrice, to both. The recipient, if unaddressed, may often be identified from the contents. Unless so identified it is assumed that the addressee is Sidney, or both.

-361-

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