George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 61
Joey and Stella

WHEN Shaw WAS MARRIED IN 1898, ROMANCE WAS SOLEMNLY EXCOMMUNIcated in a sort of fin de siècle marital bull. Marriage, by solemn agreement after prolonged, straight-from-the-shoulder discussion, was to be a business partnership, a true contrat social, by which the partners obligated themselves to devote their lives, severally and jointly, to world betterment. Affection, good will, and loyalty were the foundation stones of this form of modernistic life- union. Personal sentiment, beyond good fellowship and mutual helpfulness, was strictly banned. Shaw himself acknowledged that he kept himself under rigid control, in the matter of physical contact, for fear of being overborne, against his will, by his susceptibility to feminine charm and sex appeal. Children to this union were implacably barred, Charlotte dreading, and Shaw accepting the fear-complex, lest, for a woman at her age, childbearing be too dangerous. This obsession was perhaps not unnatural in her case, as their ages were within less than a year of each other's, his forty-two, hers forty-one.

In the first flush of modernist ardor over entering upon a "civilized" marriage, the two partners marched confidently into the future. Their marriage, to use Shaw's language of seven years later, was not "the most licentious institution in the world," with tile maximum of opportunity and the minimum of restraint. There was neither opportunity nor license, only restraint meaning restriction. Shaw as a bachelor regarded sexual intercourse as merely a delightful pastime or indoor sport, indulgence in which incurred no sense of moral delinquency. He was confident that for him, the "most advanced man on earth," romance in the sense of impassioned love and sexual gratification was unthinkable. Through life he had cherished tender, even poignant, memories of the Irish sweetheart of his adolescence in Dublin. But this experiment, he convinced himself, had cured him forever of the illusion and disillusion of "romance."

Reaction against the sticky sentimentalities of the Waverley novels and the gay gallantries of Charles Lever's superficial fiction had completed the cure. Until the age of twenty-nine Shaw gratified all his physical, spiritual, and romantic urges solely with the solace of Uranian love: the blandishments of art: music, painting, sculpture, fiction, poetry, drama, literature in the cosmic sense. There was, so far as I could observe his home life, never a cloud on the

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