George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century

By Archibald Henderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 49
Dictators and Billionaires

WHILE Geneva IS NOT ONE OF SHAW'S TOP-FLIGHT PERFORMANCES, IT POSSESSES several points of exceptional interest in connection with the evolution of his career as thinker and dramatist. Sidney Webb, who took little interest in Shaw's plays and knew almost nothing of them, had frequently urged him to write a play about English politics, after the brilliant success of John Bull's Other Island which had won the keenest appreciation from English political leaders, irrespective of party affiliation. Beatrice was particularly eager for Shaw to exert his great powers of satiric portraiture upon the political scene, and in particular upon the rôle of the Independent Labour Party whose policies had from the beginning been formulated and directed by the Fabian Society.

Professor Siegfried Trebitsch, Shaw's German translator, assigns, without giving any authority, the credit to Sidney for inspiring the writing of The Apple Cart: "Shaw had been inspired to write this unique comedy by his old friend Sidney Webb, who had again and again suggested that it was high time he wrote a political play, bringing politics on to the stage as the theme and substance of a drama and lifting the veil from those backstairs machinations of which the general public often knows nothing at all, but which are nevertheless the cause of so many important decisions. Shaw soon recognised that a political comedy, if it was to fulfil the profounder purpose of teaching people something and that was not merely to be a casual entertainment presenting contrasting views, must above all show that there is no ruling class, that the rulers are not a class in themselves but members of all classes."1Professor Trebitsch has, unfortunately, attributed credit to Sidney which belongs to Beatrice. At the cost of repetition, I quote from Shaw's letter to Beatrice, written from the Malvern Hotel, Malvern, Worcestershire, on the 5th of September, 1939: "The [Malvern] Festival has been a howling success. . . . The Apple Cart went with a roar from end to end. . . . What shall my next play be about? The Apple Cart, like Mrs. Warren, was written to your order."

After Shaw had satirized all the parties and supplied the raison d'être of Ramsay MacDonald's débacle in On the Rocks, he naturally turned next to

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1
S. Trebitsch, Chronicle of a Life (German: Chronik des Lebens), translated into English by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser ( William Heinemann Ltd, London, 1953), pp. 291-292.

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