Bernard Shaw’s Inspiration His Own Life. Based on Bertrand Russell. Appreciation Study by P.S.Remesh Chandran.
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum.
To know what inspired George Bernard Shaw, the strange and out of the way things in his life need only be just gone through. It is clear that it was his own life that inspired him. It is very interesting to watch the tiny ship of his life navigating the tumultuous seas. Bertrand Russell’s observations on Shaw are the base for this article which is aimed at only elucidating his observations.
Origin of the fine diction and musical rhythm in Shaw’s plays.
Finding her husband unable to provide for the family, his mother, with her children moved permanently to London. There she supported her family by giving music lessons and singing at concerts. She had a good singing voice and remarkable skills in music. Shaw was schooled in London and there he grew up as an extraordinarily independent intellectual. He gained his love of music from his mother and her friends, which secured for him his first job as a musical critic in a London evening newspaper. Then he became a critic of plays, the essays written during which period were of very high quality and are still being read and praised. A few years later when he began writing plays, his love of music made his sentences rhythmically easy and pleasant to speak and hear. Even the very long speeches in plays like Man and Superman hold our attention due to their musical rhythm and fine diction.
Good laws passed by a few do not make a good society but good people do make good societies.
Henry George, the author of Progress and Poverty was a very influential American economist who argued that national revenue should be raised by a single tax on land revenues, instead of levying quite a number of taxes on a variety of things. One day Shaw happened to listen to his lecture in a London city hall and joined at once his Fabian Society. Fabians condemned the blood-thirsty revolutions envisioned by the communists and believed that socialism could be achieved only through slow, steady and gradual changes in the social set up. The Fabian Society was destined to powerfully influence the British society and politics during the next forty or fifty years. In the Fabian Society, Shaw came to be acquainted with Mrs. Annie Besant, an ardent supporter of the Indian Independence Movement. As a socialist, Shaw in the beginning believed that good laws could improve and increase human happiness. But as he grew older, he trusted less and less in the power of the Parliament. Good laws passed by a few do not necessarily make a good society, but good people certainly will make good laws. Good men and women are the first thing required in the making of a Good Society.
Equal admiration for St. Joan of Orleans and St. Joseph of Moscow.
His contemporaries had many opportunities to observe Shaw as a controversialist and as a man of Victorian Vanity. According to them, Shaw had three phases in his life. First he was a musical critic, Fabian socialist and novelist. Then world saw him as a writer of comedies in which he intended to lead the world to seriousness through wits. During the third and last phase he appeared as a prophet, demanding equal admiration for ‘St. Joan ofOrleansand St. Joseph of Moscow’. By that time he had lost all distinction between a kind Christian and a cruel communist, which many of his contemporaries disliked.
Acerbity and sharpness, stamps of the personality of Shaw.
Shaw led British Socialism away from Marx. Recent happenings in the Soviet Union prove that he was correct. He attacked the Victorian vanity and humbug with his own vanity and sharp wits. ‘Social Democrats considered him as an incarnation of Satan. He fanned the flames whenever there was a dispute’. In his verbal attacks he was merciless. In a lunch party given in honour of the French philosopher Bergson, he attacked the very theories of Bergson, saying that, “Oh, my dear fellow, I understand your philosophy much better than you do!” When the Czechoslovakian President Masaryk visited London, he asked to see Shaw out of respect for the man. Shaw went to him straight and lectured that the Czechoslovakian foreign policy was very wrong. And without waiting for an answer he stormed out of the dinner venue! He could not hide his vanity and hatred like the true Victorians. He found the effort of hiding vanity wearisome and gave it up when he first burst upon the world. Acerbity and sharpness were his stamps of personality.
More Christian than the Christ.
Shaw believed that churches have strayed far from the teachings of Christ. But many things in his character had the force of a religion. Reading the works of the famous English poet Shelley made him think that ‘animals are our fellow creatures, not to be slain for human food’. At twenty five he became a vegetarian. He had a strong sense of the sacredness of animal and human life. He had the purity of life and ate no flesh, drank no alcohol and smoked no tobacco. He was kind and generous to his fellows. He insisted that we have to leave the world a better place than we found it, and that the torch of life should be passed on to the future generations burning more brightly. In this sense he was more a Christian than the Christ.
The universal trio who were anti-scientific thinkers and strict vegetarians.
Like Gandhi, Shaw may be said to have been an anti scientific thinker. Like Count Leo Tolstoy, he believed that science can give no real account of Man. It is strange and universally known that this threesome remained vegetarians, hostile to vivisection, operation and modern medicine. Samuel Butler, the famous advocate of Creative Evolution was considered by Shaw as a sage. His words were gospels to him. Even Butler’s jokes were taken seriously by Shaw. Both cruelly opposed Darwin. In personal life Shaw was a perfect man who opposed tyranny, blood-shed and cruelty. But as a religious revolutionary he was fierce and abominable. An admirable, dual personality!
A solicitous wife, the luck of all unruly thinkers.
Shaw derived his great strength from vegetables. He was lucky in getting a very solicitous wife. We have the example of Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates before us who poured a pot of water over the useless and heated head of her husband, always arguing and finding nothing for the family! She was very kind and attentive to him, followed him like a shadow anxious about his health and prepared hearty vegetarian meals for him. Even she was not spared! The household and the neighborhood resounded with his sharp and witty comments about her ancestors.
The more he lived, the more was he inspired by his own life.
Politics and journalism occupied Shaw till he was forty two. But soon he learned that politics was poly-tricks and journalism was literature in a hurry. Therefore he gave them up and took to creative literature. His earlier works were all focused on genuine social evils such as prostitution, war and religious intolerance and revenge, which touched the lives of a very large number of people. Bernard Shaw did in English what Henrik Ibsen had been doing in the Norwegian. The rich landlords of Victorian vanity considered him as an enemy. The communists considered him as an incarnation of Satan. But the poor began to consider him as a leader and champion of new ways of thought and intellectual freedom. He regarded Ruling as the highest art of all, and in his eyes, most political leaders were blunderers, insufficiently educated in this art. His works were enjoyable to the spectator as well as to the reader. He stands second only to Shakespeare among the English playwrights. Yes, the more he lived, the more was he inspired by his life.
Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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Translations of this article in French, German, Spanish and Italian published in Knol.com can be read by clicking here.
Appreciations, Bertrand Russell, British Essayists And Journalists, British Writers, English Essays, English Literature, English Playwrights, Essays, George Bernard Shaw, Irish Literature, Irish Writers, Life Of Shaw, P S Remesh Chandran, Reviews, Sahyadri Books And Bloom Books Trivandrum, Studies
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Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of Swan : The Intelligent Picture Book.
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What an informative and interesting post with excellent pictures, too. Well researched. Thanks for sharing.
Wonderful appreciation study by PSRemeshChandra.
I enjoyed reading Pygmalion in 1985 but I didn’t get any chance to watch it on stage or screen.
Dear Rama Devi Nina, Rathnashikamani,
I once had to teach Russell in a B.A. class when I noticed that Russell’s observations on Shaw were from a very close and intimate quarters, being one of his schoolmates I assume, but his presentation of those observations were not of a style that tempt readers to read more and more about Shaw. Therefore I decided then and there to simplify, update and develop his oration, which I gave as a lecture. I consider Shaw second only to Shakespeare, that too, only in conceiving elaborate themes and schemes. It is a pleasure to know that such literary adepts like you enjoyed the work. I will take more care in the future. Thank you both.