Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw

By Gareth Griffith | Go to book overview

4

THE IRISH QUESTION

THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE LONG-DISTANCE WISECRACKER

Whatever we make of Shaw’s views on women and the woman question generally, very few would doubt his abiding interest in the issues at stake, However perceived, women were never far from Shaw’s mind. Whatever the shortcomings and pitfalls in his outlook, he was a committed participant in the great debate on sexual equality.

By way of contrast, conventional wisdom, at least until very recently, has held that Shaw was something of a dilettante where Ireland and the Irish question were concerned. Like Wilde, he is often seen as a British dramatist, conquering the London stage with his elegant and perceptive commentaries on English character and custom, commentaries that were written essentially with an English audience in mind. Like Wilde, he only rarely appears in books on Anglo-Irish literature. All he had done for Ireland was to send ‘an occasional long-distance wisecrack’ said one councillor when the Corporation of Dublin discussed offering Shaw the Honorary Freedom of the City in 1946 (Shaw 1962a:293). Seen from this perspective, his relationship with his native land seems oddly cool and distant, a meagre thing of limited value in his struggle for personal ascendency over the world of English culture; his ‘Irishness’ was but a smooth accent, sedulously nurtured, with which he sought to beguile his London audience. How different this relationship seems to the romantic commitment of Yeats or the bitter-sweet intensity of Synge; how unlike O’Casey’s hard love for Ireland or the sheer intimacy of Joyce’s knowledge of her condition.

Continuing in this negative vein for a moment, it is certainly true that Shaw left Ireland in 1876 at the age of nineteen and only returned twenty-nine years later and then at his wife’s insistence. If Fenian sentiments had moved his schoolboy heart, as he claimed in Sixteen Self Sketches, these were apparently soon ousted by the desire to be part of what Larry Doyle from John Bull’s Other Island (John Bull’s) calls ‘the big world that belongs to the big powers’. Like Doyle Shaw seems to have taken England to his heart. Of all his plays,

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Socialism and Superior Brains: The Political Thought of Bernard Shaw
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I 21
  • 1 - Shaw’s Fabianism 23
  • 2 - Shavian Socialism 101
  • Part II 155
  • 3 - Sexual Equality 157
  • 4 - The Irish Question 191
  • 5 - War and Peace 216
  • 6 - Fascism and Sovietism 241
  • Part III 275
  • 7 - Conclusion 277
  • Notes 286
  • Bibliography 291
  • Index 300
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