George Bernard Shaw: A Critical Survey

George Bernard Shaw: A Critical Survey

George Bernard Shaw: A Critical Survey

George Bernard Shaw: A Critical Survey

Excerpt

Shaw was not simply the longest-lived of modern writers and in some degree the most many-sided; he was also in a sense the most challenging and disruptive. No other writer, as a result, has been the subject of so much criticism and so much near-nonsense. In an effort to understand what Shaw "meant," a whole battery of journalists, a whole army of pundits have sadly misunderstood what he was. Some of them have wrestled in solemn social-worker fashion with Shaw as though he were entirely a writer of textbooks and tracts; some, at the other extreme, have tried to make Shaw's irreverence and iconoclasm the engine of their own craving to startle or demolish. But neither through ignoring what was most Shavian nor through trying to outdo it did much worth saying about Shaw get said. And even the wisest of Shaw's critics cannot always have known how far Shaw's showmanship concealed his serious intentions, how far it coincided with them, and how far it concealed the lack of any.

But, in whatever spirit and from whatever side, it has been notably easy to write about Shaw. Any man with a specialty or a mania must somewhere have found Shaw adverting to it; any man with a grievance must have found in Shaw an antagonist or ally; whatever a man's politics, or his God, or his denial of one, Shaw--early or late --must have had his say about it. For on however outmoded or ill>reasoned or cantankerous a basis, Shaw's collected works constitute a sort of encyclopaedia. Shaw has greeted an endless succession of events with a twenty-one-gun salute--his little innovation being to take lethal aim as well. He not only took all human activity for his province, but strongly suggested that nothing superhuman was alien to him, either--he swept Heaven clean of charm, drastically lowered the temperature of Hell, brought back the dead, landscaped and peopled the future. No matter what one's field or one's foible--God or Devil, O'Leary or John Bull, prizefighters or soldiers or poets, armament-makers or brothel-keepers, Shakespeare or Wagner, phonetics or marriage or divorce, slums or drama critics, war or revolution--Shaw may serve as a pretext for writing about it, or it as a pretext for writing about Shaw.

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