George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 60
The Uranian Venus

SO OBSESSED WAS THE LATE FRANK HARRIS, WITH THE WISHFUL SUSPICION THAT the Irish "sprite" was impotent or sexually abnormal, that he mercilessly hounded Shaw for years, importuning him for his views on sex. The critics habitually commented on Shaw's lack of feeling, mischievously alluding to his vegetable passions and surmising that ice water flowed through his veins. Shaw, as I know, was most reluctant to surrender to Harris' siege, discerning behind the petitions of the jealous Harris the but slightly veiled intention to "expose" Shaw as an imperfect, maimed human being, lacking the virility denied to Ruskin and Carlyle. Of the two evils preferring the frankness of self-revelation to Harrisian innuendo, Shaw finally wrote Harris the letter so avidly awaited by the inquisitive public. Shaw's "Sex Credo" proved to be a dud, although it boosted to surprising proportions the sale of the alleged biography, a weird pastepot job by a ghostly Frank haunting a fading namesake. Shaw has nothing new to tell us of sex, out of the experience of a self confessed philanderer, except that copulation was a delightful experience, physically repulsive because the sexual and excretory organs were next door neighbors (a revulsion in which he was anticipated by a famous literary physician, Thomas Browne), and always evoked from him, out of a chivalric impulse of gratitude, a flood of rapturous adoration for the beloved. Harris reluctantly abandoned his unfounded charge.

During the bohemian years of the eighties and nineties, Shaw delighted in regaling his friends with circumstantial and minute accounts of his entanglements with women, and the difficulties he encountered in disentangling himself. A natural philanderer, he was pursued by the "new" women who were resolved to "live their own lives," which almost invariably meant freedom from conventional inhibitions as to sex relations. He was abundantly endowed with the Irish gift of blarney, fascinated women by his charm and irresponsibility, and never cuckolded his friends. His intentions were never "honorable" as they were never matrimonial. Shaw's amourettes, for he was never "serious," were inconsiderable in comparison with Don Juan's mille é tre. Uninhibited by religious scruples, he felt no delinquency regarding sexual indulgence; and his philanderings were comic adventures in sentimental exploration. He once wrote that he never kissed--and told; but those who knew him best say that that is exactly what he did do--and got huge satisfaction out of it.

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