Shaw and Feminisms: On Stage and Off

Shaw and Feminisms: On Stage and Off

Shaw and Feminisms: On Stage and Off

Shaw and Feminisms: On Stage and Off

Synopsis

When offstage actions contradict a playwright's onstage message, literary study gets messy. In his personal relationships, George Bernard Shaw was often ambivalent toward liberated women--surprisingly so, considering his reputation as one of the first champions of women's rights. His private attitudes sit uncomfortably beside his public philosophies that were so foundational to first-wave feminism.

Here, Shaw's long-recognized influence on feminism is reexamined through the lens of twenty-first-century feminist thought as well as previously unpublished primary sources. New links appear between Shaw's writings and his gendered notions of physicality, pain, performance, nationalism, authorship, and politics. The book's archival material includes previously unpublished Shaw correspondence and excerpts from the works of his feminist playwright contemporaries. Shaw and Feminisms explores Shaw's strong female characters, his real-life involvement with women, and his continuing impact on theater and politics today.

Excerpt

In 1977 when Fabian Feminist: Bernard Shaw and Woman was published, women’s studies was in its infancy. Coincidentally, the National Women’s Studies Association was founded in 1977. Although the first program in women’s studies was begun in 1970 at San Diego State College (now San Diego State University) of California, it was not until the 1980s that colleges and universities established departments of women’s studies that were not merely a program in some other department such as American studies. A generation and a half of women has matured since those beginnings.

In 1981, Michiko Kakutani in her New York Times article “G.B.S. and the Women in His Life and Art” (27 September 1981) complained that Shaw had been adopted as a kind of father figure by certain proponents of women’s liberation, singling out Rodelle Weintraub and Fabian Feminist for contributing to that idealization. Rather than finding Shaw to be a feminist father figure, Kakutani accused him of “employing the misogynist vocabulary of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in his plays, describing woman as a predatory animal intent on imprisoning her male prey.” What woman did she mean besides Ann Whitefield in Man and Superman? And Ann was hardly one of Shaw’s New Women. Although Shaw claimed to have “stood up for the intellectual capacity of women,” Kakutani wrote, he reserved creativity for the male. (See part 2 of this volume.) She further claimed that he romanticized women, although he did provide “a new role model for thousands of Victorian women.” Among Shaw’s women who happened to be on the New York stage that season were Candida in Candida, Lina Szczepanowska and Hypatia Tarleton (possibly another . . .

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