George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
The London Magnet

OF ALL THE MEMBERS OF SHAW'S IMMEDIATE FAMILY, ONLY ONE APPARENTLY showed no interest in music. This was Elinor Agnes, who went under the abbreviation of Aggie or the childhood nickname of Yuppy. She was a quiet, sensitive girl, with a pleasing sense of humor and--crowning glory--"hair of a flaming red seen only in the Scottish Highlands." Her mother adored her; and cherished her tenderly when it was discovered that, through a carelessness due to ignorance of the medical profession that "consumption" was infectious--carelessness that today would be regarded as little short of criminal --she had contracted tuberculosis from the housemaid. In 1872 Mrs. Shaw and her two daughters departed for London. Agnes's illness took an alarming turn; and her mother sent her, accompanied by her sister, to Ventnor, in the Isle of Wight, where she was quietly domiciled (not in a sanatorium), in hopes for her recovery. There she died at Balmoral House on March 3, 1876, a few weeks before her brother left Ireland for London. Yuppy was only twenty at the time of her death; and Bernard, who, with a singular callousness bordering on the abnormal, denied his mother many qualities of common humanity, said: "Under all the circumstances it says a great deal for my mother's humanity that she did not hate her children. She did not hate anybody, nor love anybody. The specific maternal passion awoke in her a little for my younger sister . . . ; but it did not move her until she lost her [such English from the purist!] nor then noticeably."1 And yet elsewhere he seems to say the opposite: "The death of my sister Agnes was her only grief in that kind."2 After the bitter disappointment in her confirmed alcoholic of a husband, and later illtreatment and ostracism by some of the closer Shaw relatives because of her musical "infatuation" for Lee, Mrs. Shaw, we learn from her son's testimony, concentrated her devotion upon Yuppy, because she "took after" Mrs. Shaw's own people, the Gurlys. On another occasion, writing to Ellen Terry, Shaw said: "I never knew love when I was a child. My mother was so disappointed in my father that she centered all her care on my younger sister, and she left

____________________
1
Sixteen Self Sketches ( New York, 1949), p. 29.
2
Ibid., p. 142.

-63-

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