British and Irish Literature George Bernard Shaw
by
Brad Kent
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0045

Introduction

Born in Dublin, George Bernard Shaw (b. 1856–d. 1950) was one of the foremost men of letters of his time, winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. Many critics consider him to be the most important playwright in the Anglophone tradition after only Shakespeare. Alongside Shaw’s challenges to the conventions of Victorian theater and his foundational work in establishing some of the more radical aspects of modern drama, he set out to reform society along socialist lines. Indeed, he was an influential cultural critic, pamphleteer, essayist, lecturer, and much sought after public intellectual who had strong opinions on just about every subject under the sun. A whirlwind over the course of his life, his activities, and his prolific and long writing career have provided fodder for critics, acolytes, and scholars. The research devoted to Shaw can be divided into two streams: (i) his work in the theater and the arts in general and (ii) his political activities and beliefs. As might be expected, a fair amount of work bridges the two, with a sizeable corpus devoted to the political aspects of Shaw’s drama. This bibliography, which is by no means exhaustive, is meant to help guide the student of Shaw to navigate the massive amount of writing that has been produced on his life and work.

General Works

These studies offer good introductions to many components of Shaw’s life and work. Both are parts of very well-respected series devoted to authors. Innes 1998 provides more traditional essays, while Kent 2015 is a hybrid of entries that fit somewhere between original essays and lengthy encyclopedic contributions. Both offer good coverage of the state of research at the time of their publication. Kent 2015 also includes topics that have yet to garner much attention and points to areas in need of further work.

  • Innes, Christopher, ed. The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    Includes fifteen in-depth essays on a wide variety of subjects. Divided into three sections: (i) the social and cultural context; (ii) Shaw the dramatist; and (iii) theater work and influence.

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  • Kent, Brad, ed. George Bernard Shaw in Context. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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    Includes forty-two short essays on diverse subjects. Divided into six sections: (i) people and places; (ii) theater; (iii) writing and the arts; (iv) politics; (v) culture and society; and (vi) reception and afterlife.

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Journals

Because of his importance to literary and political culture, Shaw has attracted enough attention to warrant an academic journal dedicated to him. SHAW: The Journal of Bernard Shaw Studies is a mine of information and must be one of the sources anyone working on Shaw should consult owing to the quality and diversity of the articles it has published over the years. The Shavian is less academic, though it does include the occasional solid article.

Reference Works

Shaw scholars have been well-served by a number of scrupulous individuals who have provided guides both to Shaw’s work and to work on Shaw. “A Continuing Checklist” (Martín 2015) remains a great resource because it is updated annually, but it can be unwieldy when one wishes to track a particular subject across time. The same could be said for Wearing, et al. 1986. Carpenter 2007 is particularly helpful in this regard and one hopes that he will continue to update it; Pharand 2015 is a nice companion to Carpenter. Weintraub 1992 is also an excellent guide, gently leading one through the research. For those looking for resources that deal directly with Shaw and not so much on the scholarship, consult Bevan 1971, Evans 1976, Gibbs 2001, and Mander and Mitchenson 1954. Like Wearing, et al. 1986 and Pharand 2015, Laurence 1983 is a good hybrid, accounting for both Shaw’s writing and writings on Shaw.

  • Bevan, E. Dean. A Concordance to the Plays and Prefaces of Bernard Shaw. 10 vols. Detroit: Gale Research, 1971.

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    An early example of the possibilities that digital humanities holds for scholars. Searchable databases could supersede this unwieldy and costly work, but, to date, no such centralized instrument exists for Shaw’s plays and prefaces. The concordance was compiled as the Bodley Head editions of Shaw’s plays and prefaces were being published, and these volumes thus use the 1930–1938 standard editions as the reference texts.

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  • Carpenter, Charles A. A Selective, Classified International Bibliography of Publications about Bernard Shaw. 2007.

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    The best resource on the Internet for quick and easy access to scholarship references; fairly exhaustive in its scope, which includes a variety of foreign-language sources. Has sections devoted to critical work on each of the plays, Shaw’s own writings, and major themes covered in research.

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  • Evans, T. F. Shaw: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1976.

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    Part of a series of works dedicated to the contemporary reception of writers. This is a great resource to help understand the reception of Shaw’s plays, including numerous reviews of early productions and some of his plays in print. Also features a final section of obituaries. Does not provide any commentary on his prose works, such as his major essays or his novels.

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  • Gibbs, A. M. Shaw: A Chronology. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.

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    An excellent resource for the major events in Shaw’s life compiled by his most recent biographer. This is the authoritative and an easy-to-use source for anyone in need of precise dating.

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  • Laurence, Dan H. Bernard Shaw: A Bibliography. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1983.

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    Descriptive bibliography of Shaw’s works, including his books, works he edited, newspaper and periodical contributions, broadcastings, recordings, and manuscripts. Also lists major works published on Shaw in many languages and countries, from H. L. Mencken’s Bernard Shaw: His Plays in 1905 to the publication of the bibliography in 1983.

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  • Mander, Raymond, and Joe Mitchenson. Theatrical Companion to Shaw: A Pictorial Record of the First Performances of the Plays of George Bernard Shaw. London: Rockcliff, 1954.

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    Not exactly as advertised, as there were a few first performances that do not appear to have been photographed, but each play is represented in nicely reproduced photographs of various productions. Also includes cast and production information and other important ephemera, such as some of Shaw’s program notes.

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  • Martín, Gustavo A. Rodríguez. “A Continuing Checklist of Shaviana.” SHAW: The Journal of Bernard Shaw Studies 35.2 (2015): 288–353.

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    This checklist, which is updated annually, is overseen by Gustavo A. Rodríguez Martín. It remains the most up-to-date and comprehensive annotated bibliography of Shaw-related works in all languages, including new editions of Shaw’s writings and plays; essays, monographs, dissertations, and theses devoted to the study of his life and work; periodical articles that discuss all aspects of him at some length; and his presence on the web and in other media. This work continues from its earliest incarnations in the precursors to the journal: Shaw Bulletin (1951–1958), The Shaw Review (1959–1980) and SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies (1981–2014). From 1972 to 2014, the bibliography was compiled by John R. Pfeiffer.

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  • Pharand, Michel. A Chronology of Works by and about Bernard Shaw. London: Shaw Society, 2015.

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    One of the most concise and easy-to-use chronologies of Shaw’s works. Well-organized and freely accessible. Regularly updated.

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  • Wearing, J. P., Elsie B. Adams, and Donald C. Haberman, eds. G. B. Shaw: An Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him. 3 vols. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1986.

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    Comprehensive collective work, the three volumes covering the periods of 1871–1930, 1931–1956, and 1957–1978. Includes everything from responses to Shaw’s letters in newspapers, to reviews of his plays in performance and in publication, to scholarly essays and monographs.

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  • Weintraub, Stanley. Bernard Shaw: A Guide to Research. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.

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    Excellent descriptive bibliographic essays that are both wide-ranging and brisk and point to areas in need of more research. Categories include other bibliographies, biographies and autobiographies, criticism, and works depicting Shaw in fiction.

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Archival Sources

Owing in part to his importance and popularity, Shaw’s works and anything related to him have long been sought after by collectors. Because he lived so long and was so prolific in his output, he left a considerable amount of material behind, from play manuscripts and letters to all sorts of ephemera. Fortunately, a fair amount of this has landed in the hands of those who have eventually donated or sold their collections to public and university libraries, where they can be easily accessed by scholars with travel budgets. However, there is always more turning up and what there is has yet to be exhausted. A good guide to the major archives with significant Shaw holdings is SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 20, published in 2000; this issue has descriptive essays on a number of the sites noted in this essay. I have included here only the major archives, divided geographically between those in Europe and those in North America. There are others that have decent Shaw holdings, such as Cal State Fullerton, Hofstra University, the University of Delaware, and many more have some odds and ends.

Europe

By far and away the most important sources for Shaw archival materials are those of the British Library and the London School of Economics. As they are both located in London, this makes a research trip here essential for anyone working on any aspect of Shaw’s life and work. The National Library of Ireland, in comparison, has relatively little to interest most scholars unless their work is specifically on the novels or the Irish dimension of Shaw. For those working on the latter, trips to other archives, such as the London-based sites noted here, will provide more material.

North America

Even though Shaw did not spend much time at all in North America and comparatively little of his writings address the continent, a great deal of his manuscripts and Shaw ephemera have been collected in significant archives here. The leading sites for scholars remain the University of Texas at Austin (Harry Ransom Center), Cornell University (Bernard F. Burgunder Collection), and the University of Guelph (L. W. Conolly Archives), with the New York Public Library (Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection) also well worth a visit. The University of North Carolina (Archibald Henderson Collection) has probably the least-consulted materials for a major repository of Shaviana. Brown University (Sidney P. Albert George Bernard Shaw Collection), Bucknell University (George Bernard Shaw Collection), and Colgate University (Richard S. Weiner Collection of George Bernard Shaw) are also worth a trip for more targeted research as they lack the breadth of the other sites.

Editions of Plays

Shaw 1970–1974 has become the standard text used in the field by researchers. However, it has two significant disadvantages: this series is now out of print and each of the seven volumes is of a considerable size. Over the years, Penguin has issued editions of all of Shaw’s plays. The Penguin series uses Shaw 1970–1974 as the copy text for the plays; the advantages of Penguin are that it is affordable, in print, and reliable, though the drawbacks include very slight introductions and no explanatory notes. Broadview and New Mermaids remain the best and most comprehensive editions for teaching and research, while Shaw 2002 is a fair second choice. The series that reproduces the early play manuscripts, although rare to come across, provides excellent sources for those who wish to see the development of some of Shaw’s most important writing and cannot afford the time or the cost of a trip to the archives. Shaw 1980 is a great resource for those interested in adaptations of Shaw’s plays and in Shaw’s understanding of cinema.

  • New Mermaids. Edited by L. W. Conolly. London: Methuen Drama, 2008–2012.

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    The five plays published in the series are Arms and the Man, Mrs Warren’s Profession, Major Barbara, Pygmalion, and Saint Joan, individually edited by J. P. Wearing, Brad Kent, Nicholas Grene, L. W. Conolly, and Jean Chothia, respectively. All are expertly introduced and annotated, providing the most definitive editions of these plays to date.

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  • Shaw, George Bernard. The Bodley Head Bernard Shaw: Collected Plays with Their Prefaces. 7 vols. Edited by Dan H. Laurence. London: Reinhardt, 1970–1974.

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    This is the definitive version of the plays and their prefaces and the most cited by Shaw scholars.

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  • Shaw, George Bernard. The Collected Screenplays of Bernard Shaw. Edited by Bernard F. Dukore. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1980.

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    Includes a lengthy, fully researched introduction that assiduously covers several aspects of Shaw’s involvement in cinema. Considers both English-language and foreign-language productions. The screenplays included are those that Shaw wrote for Saint Joan, Pygmalion (for which he won the screen-writing Oscar in 1938), The Devil’s Disciple, Major Barbara, Arms and the Man, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

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  • Shaw, George Bernard. Early Texts: Play Manuscripts in Facsimile. 12 vols. Edited by Dan H. Laurence. New York: Garland, 1981.

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    These resources provide scholars access to the manuscripts. The focus is on those of Shaw’s plays of the 1890s, with Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Heartbreak House being the notable exceptions. Twelve volumes are included in the collection.

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  • Shaw, George Bernard. George Bernard Shaw’s Plays. Edited by Sandie Byrne. New York: Norton, 2002.

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    Includes Mrs Warren’s Profession, Pygmalion, Man and Superman, and Major Barbara. Although the introduction, editing, and annotations are minimal, one excellent feature is an appendix of critical interpretations of the plays by leading scholars.

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  • Shaw, George Bernard. Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Edited by L. W. Conolly. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2005.

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    This critical edition as well as The Philanderer, also edited by Conolly (Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2015) are superbly introduced, edited, and annotated, and include a great deal of relevant contextual material in appendices.

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Letters

Shaw’s epistolary output was absolutely amazing; indeed, some reliable scholars estimate that it numbers in the hundreds of thousands. What is more, Shaw was one of the most engaging letter writers in any language and in any era. Thankfully, a large amount of the better and more revealing letters has already been published, and these publications remain incredible resources. They provide a great deal of information about Shaw’s work, beliefs, and life as well as those of his correspondents, a good number of whom were famous, influential, and interesting in their own right. The standard in the field remains Laurence 1965–1988, although in the main it only provides Shaw’s letters and not those of his correspondents. Conolly and Smith 1995– focuses rather on Shaw’s correspondence with a particular person or people, providing letters both from and to Shaw or on a particular subject. In this sense, it carries on the work of earlier editors of Shaw’s correspondence, such as St John 1931, Dent 1952, Purdom 1956, Hyde 1982, Weintraub 1982, Laurence and Rambeau 1985, Weiss 1986, and Laurence and Grene 1993.

  • Conolly, L. W., and J. Percy Smith, eds. Selected Correspondence of Bernard Shaw. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995–.

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    This expertly edited series of books includes editions of Shaw’s correspondence on theater (Dan H. Laurence) and with his publishers (Michel W. Pharand); H. G. Wells (J. Percy Smith); Gabriel Pascal (Bernard F. Dukore); Barry Jackson (L. W. Conolly); Sidney and Beatrice Webb (Alex C. Michalos and Deborah C. Poff); Nancy Astor (J. P. Wearing); and Gilbert Murray (Charles A. Carpenter).

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  • Dent, Alan, ed. Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell: Their Correspondence. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.

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    Spanning forty years, the witty and engaging correspondence between one of the leading playwrights and one of the leading actresses of their day. Details Shaw’s wooing of Campbell to act in his plays—he wrote some characters, including Cleopatra and Eliza Doolittle, with her in mind—and to be his lover.

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  • Hyde, Mary, ed. Bernard Shaw and Alfred Douglas: A Correspondence. New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1982.

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    The letters sent during the fascinating late-life relationship between Shaw and Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde’s lover. The correspondence, which notably touches upon Wilde and also Wilde and Shaw’s notorious biographer Frank Harris, began in earnest in 1931 and ended in December 1944, just a few months before Douglas’s death. An appendix also includes some earlier letters, dating from a tempestuous exchange following Douglas’s critical review of the original 1908 production of Shaw’s Getting Married.

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  • Laurence, Dan H., ed. Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters. 4 vols. London: Max Reinhardt, 1965–1988.

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    The four volumes were published in chronological order (1874–1897, 1898–1910, 1911–1925, and 1926–1950) in, respectively, 1965, 1972, 1985, and 1988. This is the most essential collection of Shaw’s correspondence, expertly edited and introduced. It provides an excellent survey of the range of Shaw’s interests and correspondents over his lifetime.

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  • Laurence, Dan H., and Nicholas Grene, eds. Shaw, Lady Gregory and the Abbey: A Correspondence and a Record. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1993.

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    A superbly edited and introduced collection that reveals Shaw’s importance to the Irish context and his abiding interest in his native country. Excellent resource for studying early Irish productions of Shaw’s plays and his relationships with several notable Irish writers, especially Gregory, but also W. B. Yeats, Sean O’Casey, and Lennox Robinson. The correspondence begins in 1909 with the controversy surrounding the Abbey’s production of The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet and ends in 1931, the year before Gregory’s death.

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  • Laurence, Dan H., and James Rambeau, ed. Agitations: Letters to the Press 1875–1950. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1985.

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    An excellent introduction to how Shaw used the press to further his myriad political, social, and cultural causes and simultaneously to cultivate his celebrity. Much more dependable than the error-ridden though still useful, The Letters of Bernard Shaw to The Times (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2007).

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  • Purdom, C. B., ed. Bernard Shaw’s Letters to Granville Barker. London: Phoenix House, 1956.

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    Only includes Shaw’s letters as Barker’s are believed to have disappeared, if they were not destroyed. Each letter is excellently introduced. Provides an intimate glimpse into Shaw’s long relationship with Barker (over more than forty years), which was the most productive and important collaboration he had in the theater.

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  • St John, Christopher, ed. Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw: A Correspondence. London: Constable, 1931.

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    The letters between Shaw and Ellen Terry, one of the leading actresses of the day with whom Shaw worked and for whom he wrote parts in plays. Covers the period from 1892 to 1922, the bulk of it being from the first decade, when Terry was at the height of her profession and Shaw was coming into his own as a playwright. Entries are helpfully annotated where needed.

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  • Weintraub, Stanley, ed. The Playwright and the Pirate: A Correspondence. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1982.

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    Shaw’s correspondence with Frank Harris, his one-time editor from his days of journalism in the late 19th century, the author of a self-congratulatory and obscene autobiography, My Life and Loves, and a notorious biography of Shaw that Shaw both denounced and had to complete upon Harris’s death in 1931. Letters are expertly introduced and annotated.

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  • Weiss, Samuel A., ed. Bernard Shaw’s Letters to Siegfried Trebitsch. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1986.

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    Excellent record of one of the longest and most important professional relationships in Shaw’s career, from 1902 to 1950. Provides a helpful biographical essay on the lesser-known Trebitsch, Shaw’s German-language translator and business agent. Situates the correspondence in the turbulent histories of modern Germany and Austria. See also Weiss’s article “Bernard Shaw’s Further Letters to Siegfried Trebitsch” (SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 20 [2000], pp. 221–245).

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Shaw’s Life Writings

Shaw’s letters are the biggest corpus of his life writings, but he also wrote on his life in other genres. Shaw 1949 remains an excellent source for Shaw’s recollection of his early life in Dublin, while Shaw 1970 covers Shaw’s entire life. Shaw 1986 (Shaw’s diaries) is transcribed from shorthand; the entries are annotated for both neophyte and scholar and provide a revealing view of the man as he ascends from an unknown writer to one of the most respected music and drama critics, political lecturers, and playwrights of his age.

  • Shaw, Bernard. Sixteen Self Sketches. London: Constable, 1949.

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    A collection of brief essays written by Shaw toward the end of his life. They mainly deal with his early years in Dublin, before he moved to London in 1876, and include his warnings for potential—and rebukes of actual—biographers.

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  • Shaw, Bernard. Bernard Shaw: An Autobiography 1856–1898. 2 vols. Edited by Stanley Weintraub. New York: Reinhardt, 1970.

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    A collection of Shaw’s autobiographical writings throughout his lifetime. The excerpts, which are organized according to subject matter rather than in chronological order, have been culled from a wide variety of sources. An excellent companion to Sixteen Self Sketches.

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  • Shaw, Bernard. Bernard Shaw: The Diaries, 1885–1897. 2 vols. Edited by Stanley Weintraub. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986.

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    Tracks Shaw’s day-to-day movements, including the political and cultural events he attended, the people with whom he was in contact, his personal reading, his writing habits, and his daily expenses. Also includes an abortive attempt at a diary in 1917. An invaluable resource.

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Biography

Shaw has attracted attention from biographers for well over a century, even before he had won acclaim and the Nobel Prize for literature. Because of his long life, varied interests, massive literary output, and involvement with a large and diverse group of people, many of whom helped to shape British society, his biographies, in the best of traditions, are not only windows into his life and work but into an entire zeitgeist; indeed, the better of them amount to fascinating political and cultural histories of the 19th and 20th centuries. In his earliest handling of biographers, Shaw was notably heavy-handed, and most biographies that were published in his lifetime should be seen, to varying degrees, as collaborative efforts. His correspondence with his biographers shows him feeding them pages of information that were often reproduced at great length, and he also “corrected” many of their interpretations, notably refusing one prospective biographer permission to publish his work. While these earlier biographies are of value for the closeness of their authors to their subject, I include those that have been published since Shaw’s death. Of note, two were written by men with considerable insider knowledge: Henderson 1956, by a biographer who had already published several books on Shaw during his lifetime, and Ervine 1956, by a notable Fabian and Irish literary figure who knew Shaw quite well. Holroyd 1988–1992 and Peters 1996 were heavily influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis, which was prevalent in the field at the time. Gibbs 2005, while lacking the length of Holroyd, is the most definitive to date and does much to correct some errors and essential details that biographers have repeated over the years. Weintraub 1971 and Hugo 1999 are smartly conceived biographies that focus on the wealth of material available for shorter periods in Shaw’s life.

  • Ervine, St John. Bernard Shaw: His Life, Work and Friends. New York: Morrow, 1956.

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    Ervine, from Northern Ireland, was lauded by Shaw as the one who would be able to best understand his Irish side, but his work suffers from a lack of documentation. However, it is eminently readable and was awarded the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography.

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  • Gibbs, A. M. Bernard Shaw: A Life. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005.

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    The most recent biography, this study does much to dispel certain orthodoxies and beliefs regarding Shaw’s childhood years and breaks away from the Freudian approaches of the preceding decades.

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  • Henderson, Archibald. George Bernard Shaw: Man of the Century. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1956.

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    The last of three major studies by Shaw’s authorized biographer and the only one that Shaw did not revise. While dated, it is still a very good resource. This is the culmination of Henderson’s long relationship with Shaw, which covered almost half a century, beginning in 1905 with their first correspondence. Includes an invaluable preface detailing their relationship and also discusses the role of the biographer and his difficulty in dealing with a generous though demanding subject.

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  • Holroyd, Michael. Bernard Shaw. 5 vols. London: Chatto and Windus, 1988–1992.

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    The most comprehensive study of Shaw to date. Noted for its Freudian approach and exhaustive research. Also published by Penguin, 1990–1992. Later condensed into a single abridged volume in 1997.

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  • Hugo, Leon. Edwardian Shaw: The Writer and his Age. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

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    More of a public than a private biography, detailing Shaw’s rise in this decade from a relatively unknown literary figure, though a renowned pamphleteer and journalist, to one of the most important playwrights of his era.

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  • Peters, Sally. Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    A solidly researched and highly readable psychological and sexual biography. Controversial for its sustained argument that Shaw was homosexual.

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  • Rosset, B. C. Shaw of Dublin: The Formative Years. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964.

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    Though somewhat dated, with some facts and interpretations since challenged and corrected by successive biographers, this remains the most substantial look at Shaw’s Irish background, with the emphasis on his first years in Dublin and his early years in London, when he was surrounded by his extended Irish family.

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  • Weintraub, Stanley. Journey to Heartbreak: The Crucible Years of Bernard Shaw 1914–1918. New York: Weybright and Talley, 1971.

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    Covers Shaw’s fall from grace as a popular playwright in Britain as he became the scourge of the nation on the heels of his anti-war writings, to his successive soul-searching and loneliness as a pariah, and finally to how this context led to writing the last of his great middle plays: Heartbreak House, Back to Methuselah, and Saint Joan.

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Memoirs

While a few of his biographies were written by individuals who had considerable access to Shaw, the advantage to memoirs is that they dispense with any pretense of distanced neutrality and allegiance to the factual record. Accordingly, they provide first-person accounts that complement the work of biographers—and indeed have provided much fodder for biographers—and offer rare glimpses into the personal side of Shaw, the man behind the showman GBS. Patch 1951 and O’Casey 1989 are among the better of these books, with Gibbs 1990 offering an excellent diversity of personal glimpses, a fitting work that laid the foundation for his later biography. Chappelow 1961 blends some of the virtues of Patch (in its access to the day-to-day mundane world of Shaw) with the variety of Gibbs. McNulty 1992, even more than O’Casey, offers a look into the Irish dimension of Shaw’s background and importantly recounts his early years in Dublin. Langner 1963 and Pascal 1970 flesh out the business side of Shaw discussed in Patch.

  • Chappelow, Allan, ed. Shaw the Villager and the Human Being: A Biographical Symposium. London: Charles Skilton, 1961.

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    Over fifty personal recollections of Shaw from residents of Ayot St Lawrence, where the Shaws lived for the better part of the second half of their lives, and the nearby city of Welwyn, where Shaw frequented the local merchants, and from several former employees of Shaw’s Corner.

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  • Gibbs, Anthony M., ed. Interviews and Recollections. London: Macmillan, 1990.

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    The recollections of an incredible array of those who were part of Shaw’s inner circle, many of whom were luminaries in their own rights. Culled from a wide variety of sources and organized according to such subjects as Shaw’s Fabian days, his Dublin childhood, his philandering, sports, war, and the theater.

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  • Langner, Lawrence. G.B.S. and the Lunatic: Reminiscences of the Long, Lively and Affectionate Relationship between George Bernard Shaw and the Author. London: Hutchinson, 1963.

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    An affectionate and revealing portrait of Shaw. Langner, director of New York’s Theatre Guild, worked with Shaw from 1920 until Shaw’s death in 1950 and was his greatest champion in America during these years, producing many Shaw plays, including six world premières: Heartbreak House, Back to Methuselah, Saint Joan, Too True to be Good, The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles, and The Millionairess. Also an important account of Shaw’s business acumen.

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  • McNulty, Mathew Edward. “Memoirs of G.B.S.” Edited by Dan H. Laurence. SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 12 (1992): 1–46.

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    A revealing reminiscence of Shaw. McNulty was Shaw’s best friend in their youth, and they remained in contact throughout their lives. Particularly valuable for its account of their time in Ireland before Shaw moved to London, the later years are interspersed with bits of their correspondence; most of the letters from the earlier years of their relationship were unfortunately incinerated by both parties.

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  • O’Casey, Eileen. Cheerio, Titan: The Friendship between George Bernard Shaw, Sean O’Casey and Eileen O’Casey. New York: Scribner, 1989.

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    An insider’s account (Eileen was Sean’s widow at the time of publication) of the relationship between two of Ireland’s greatest playwrights. The recollections are interspersed with correspondence. Provides fascinating insight into their mutual admiration and their views on several essential moments in their lives, such as the Abbey’s controversial rejection of O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie in 1928.

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  • Pascal, Valerie. The Disciple and His Devil. London: Michael Joseph, 1970.

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    An insider’s biography of Gabriel Pascal, the cinema director and producer (Valerie was his widow). An entertaining account of Pascal’s relationship with Shaw and the business of turning Shaw’s plays into films.

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  • Patch, Blanche. Thirty Years with G.B.S. London: Victor Gollancz, 1951.

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    A highly literate and intimate account of the inner workings of Shaw’s private and professional life, featuring a huge secondary cast of many of the age’s luminaries. Written by Shaw’s secretary of thirty years, from July 1920 to his death in November 1950.

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Shaw on Theater

Before he carved out a reputation as a revolutionary playwright, Shaw made his name as a drama critic. Dukore 1993 is by far the most indispensable publication on this topic but might prove a bit costly for the average person; West 1958 is a considerably slimmer precursor. Shaw 1898 and Wisenthal 1979 are the best sources for Shaw’s major, sustained writings on two of his greatest influences: Richard Wagner and Henrik Ibsen. Wilson 1961 is also good for its focus on Shaw’s writings on Shakespeare, another strong influence and foil. As opposed to a collection of Shaw’s writings, Fromm 1967 is the most detailed study of Shaw’s theater criticism on record; given its date and restricted temporal focus, another such book-length study is long overdue. What becomes clear from reading the many collections of Shaw’s theater writings is that both individually and collectively they became manifestos for the development of modern drama and modernism, well before those penned by the high modernists of poetry, the novel, and visual arts who tend to get more of the attention in this vein.

  • Dukore, Bernard F., ed. Bernard Shaw: The Drama Observed. 4 vols. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

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    The essential collection of Shaw’s writings on theater, expertly edited and annotated. Includes all of Shaw’s output when he worked as the theater reviewer for Saturday Review (1895–1898), which had been formerly published by Shaw in the Constable edition of his standard works as the three-volume Our Theatres in the Nineties (London: Constable, 1931). Covers seven decades, from his first review in 1880 until his death in 1950.

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  • Fromm, Harold. Bernard Shaw and the Theater in the Nineties. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1967.

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    A study of Shaw’s theater criticism as a critic for British newspapers and in other media during the 1890s. Showing how Shaw used his journalism to set the template for a more avant-garde drama, Fromm argues that Shaw’s early ideas of the theater informed all of his plays written during this period and indeed until his death, with emphasis on the aesthetic as much as the social aspects of his work.

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  • Shaw, Bernard. The Perfect Wagnerite. London: Grant Richards, 1898.

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    Shaw’s study of Wagner’s Ring Cycle takes the story from the realm of myth and reads it instead as a commentary on 19th-century economic relations. First published in 1898, Shaw reissued it with The Quintessence of Ibsenism and The Sanity of Art in 1932. This later volume was published in 1986 under the title Major Critical Essays (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin), with a helpful introduction by Michael Holroyd.

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  • West, E. J., ed. Shaw on Theatre. New York: Hill and Lang, 1958.

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    A good number of the texts here are replicated in Dukore 1993, but there are some gems not found elsewhere, such as Shaw’s program notes for a few of his plays at the Malvern Festival.

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  • Wilson, Edwin, ed. Shaw on Shakespeare: An Anthology of Bernard Shaw’s Writings on the Plays and Production of Shakespeare. New York: Dutton, 1961.

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    A well-organized collection of material that concludes with Shaw’s one-act puppet play Shakes versus Shav. The introduction makes claims for Shaw’s importance as a Shakespearean critic who moved against the prevailing tendency to deify the Bard and emphasizes Shaw’s prejudice and propaganda for the New Drama that caused him to be blinded to some aspects of Shakespeare’s drama.

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  • Wisenthal, J. L., ed. Shaw and Ibsen: Bernard Shaw’s The Quintessence of Ibsenism and Related Writings. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.

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    Dukore 1993 includes both the first edition of The Quintessence from 1891 and its later edition of 1913, as does this book. The strength of Wisenthal’s volume is its comprehensive introduction and Shaw’s other writings on Ibsen that are not reproduced elsewhere, allowing the reader to fully grapple with the important influence of the Norwegian on Shaw’s drama and thinking.

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Theater Surveys

The modern period of British drama—which is roughly defined as beginning in 1890 and extending to somewhere around the end of the Second World War—aligns perfectly with Shaw’s life in the theater as a critic, author, and director. As he was considered one of the innovators of the theater, it is no wonder that he looms so large in studies of an era often referred to as the second Renaissance of British theater. Indeed, just as Shakespeare dominates accounts of the first Renaissance, so Shaw dominates accounts of the second, leading to him being often referred to as the most important playwright after Shakespeare in the Anglophone world and perhaps the most important playwright of his own time in any language. The theater surveys listed here are restricted in various ways: to genre (comedy, play of ideas), temporality (modern and contemporary eras), and nation (usually British). What they all have in common, however, is that, despite being from a variety of perspectives, they all testify to Shaw’s importance as a great playwright. Goldman 1914 and Bentley 1946, aside from having interesting insights from two influential thinkers, are good to read as products of their times; the latter, for example, was published just before the arrival of Beckett, Ionseco, and the Theatre of the Absurd on the continent and the so-called Angry Young Men in Britain. Kronenberger 1952 and Knight 1962 offer a look at Shaw from a broad historical perspective. Freedman 1967, Nightingale 1982, Dietrich 1989, Chothia 1996, Innes 2002, and Sternlicht 2004 consider Shaw in the context of modern and 20th-century British and Irish drama, which is the context in which he tends to be read most often. More work on the European dimensions of Shaw’s drama and broader study of modern drama that has a wider geographical scope will hopefully continue to reveal greater insights into his importance.

  • Bentley, Eric. The Playwright as Thinker: A Study of Drama in Modern Times. New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1946.

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    An important early study, heavily informed by Shaw’s own thinking, by one of the most influential critics of 20th-century theater. Makes a case for Wagner, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Shaw as the giants of modern drama, their plays forming a peek on either side of which is the commercial theater of the 19th-century and the host of paler successors in the generations that had followed up to the time of publication.

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  • Chothia, Jean. English Drama of the Early Modern Period, 1890–1940. London: Longman, 1996.

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    Part of a series of critical introductions for students of literature. Includes a significant chapter that is appreciative of Shaw’s drama, though keen to its perceived limitations.

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  • Dietrich, Richard F. British Drama 1890 to 1950: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

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    A solid but highly selective history, focusing on the work of only thirteen playwrights. As with other accounts of modern British drama, Shaw looms large in general discussions of the period, a full fourth of the book being devoted solely to Shaw’s theater.

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  • Freedman, Morris. The Moral Impulse: Modern Drama from Ibsen to the Present. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967.

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    A brisk work that offers perceptive but at times superficial readings of a wide variety of plays. Lacks academic references, citations, and a bibliography. However, it is a useful indicator of the importance of ideas as a general motivator in modern drama. Shaw’s role is acknowledged in an individual chapter; provocatively argues that the force of his ideas comes from their embodiment in the emotions of his characters.

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  • Goldman, Emma. The Social Significance of the Modern Drama. Boston: Gorham, 1914.

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    A serious examination of modern drama, which Goldman, one of the foremost radicals of her day, considers different from the escapist art for art’s sake movement, modern art being a mirror of society that engaged with the larger questions of its time and was revolutionary in its attacks on tradition and convention. The chapter on Shaw portrays him as having unmasked the benevolent public visage of society to reveal its brutal savagery.

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  • Innes, Christopher. Modern British Theatre: The Twentieth Century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    A revised and updated version of Innes’s Modern British Drama, 1890–1990 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), this is the most important and authoritative survey of 20th-century British theater. Argues that Shaw set the template for modernism in British theater. Begins with 1890, the year of Shaw’s public lecture on Ibsen, the text of which would become the basis for the first modernist manifesto of the theater, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (1891). Much of the study traces the influence of Shaw on succeeding generations of British playwrights.

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  • Knight, G. Wilson. The Golden Labyrinth: A Study of British Drama. London: Phoenix, 1962.

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    Written by one of the most renowned scholars of his day, the study begins with a discussion of Greek drama before sketching a history of British drama from medieval times to the mid-20th century. Most chapters are devoted to periods, with only four focused on particular playwrights: Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, and Shaw. The chapter on Shaw is full of keen insights and is fulsome in the discussion of Shavian comedy, favorably comparing him to Aristophanes.

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  • Kronenberger, Louis. The Thread of Laughter: Chapters on English Stage Comedy from Jonson to Maugham. New York: Knopf, 1952.

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    A historical study of the genre of comedy, focusing on sixteen playwrights or collaborative partnerships. Argues for the philosophical aspects of comedy and views it as criticism, in contradistinction to tragedy, which the author considers closer to idealism. Shaw, as a writer of comedies of ideas, figures as the most important, with over fifty pages—the most on a single author—devoted to his major plays.

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  • Nightingale, Benedict. A Reader’s Guide to Fifty Modern British Plays. London: Heinemann, 1982.

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    Written by one of the most influential theater critics of the last half-century, it focuses on what Nightingale deems to be fifty of the most essential plays of the first eighty years of the 20th century. A full 10 percent of the plays discussed—five—are Shaw’s. Importantly refutes the orthodoxy of critics to view Shaw’s characters as mere mouth-pieces for his opinions, seeing him instead as a major theatrical innovator.

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  • Sternlicht, Sanford. A Reader’s Guide to Modern British Drama. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2004.

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    A catalogue of fifty-nine major 20th-century British dramatists. Short introductory chapters outline main themes and directions of the theater and note watershed events. The entry for each playwright includes a brief biographical sketch, followed by more focused descriptions of their most important plays. Attesting to Shaw’s preeminence, no playwright is accorded more than seven pages, save for Shaw, who is discussed in over twenty-six.

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Studies of Shaw’s Theater

The books in the general section are restricted to those that purport to take a panoramic or survey approach to Shaw’s dramatic oeuvre. As becomes clear through the descriptions, many are stronger in certain periods than others despite their titles or claims to inclusivity. There is a definite tendency to grant more space to his well-known plays and very little to arguments in defense of his lesser-known plays, suggesting, erroneously, that critical opinion is unanimous on their perceived value. More specifically, his later plays—those written after Saint Joan in the last twenty-five years of his life—get very little recognition. For this reason, I provide further subsections devoted to period-specific studies of his plays, grouped into the three most common periodizations: (i) his early plays (those of Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant and Three Plays for Puritans, 1892–1899); (ii) his middle plays (the great body of works from 1900 to 1925 that incorporates the majority of his best and most famous plays); and (iii) his late plays (from The Apple Cart in 1929 to Shakes versus Shav, the puppet play he wrote the year before his death in 1950). While there have been some monographs devoted to the first phase in his career, there has only been one major work devoted solely to the works of his middle years, likely because of their reputation and variety. To date, reflecting the paucity of critical attention to his later plays, only essay-length studies of these plays have been published: a good monograph on the subject needs to be tackled.

General

Survey studies of Shaw’s drama have been essential in outlining his abiding concerns, his dramatic tendencies, and, importantly, highlighting shifts in both of these subjects to reveal him as a dynamic and avant-garde author, a literary lion, and a man of his times. Each has its own virtues and limitations, as are outlined in the subsequent sections in more detail. Given that Shaw is often flippantly considered as too didactic by lazy critics, Morgan 1972, Berst 1973, Dukore 1973, and Bertolini 1991 offer important salvos that examine Shaw’s artistry, while Grene 1984 remains a salutary riposte to those who would be too quick to write a hagiography. Crompton 1969 and Hugo 1971 make more traditional cases for reading Shaw’s drama from political and social angles. Gibbs 1983 is wide-ranging, covering a fair amount of terrain, while Purdom 1963 offers quite a bit for the neophyte in a nice introduction to Shaw and his plays. Dukore 2000 stakes out new ground in his analysis of Shaw’s work as a director and his ideas of the theater.

  • Berst, Charles A. Bernard Shaw and the Art of Drama. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973.

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    A fair study of ten of Shaw’s plays up to Saint Joan, each discussed individually. Emphasis is on the art of Shaw’s drama over the tendency to focus on his philosophical, political, and social views through a narrow critical lens.

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  • Bertolini, John A. The Playwrighting Self of Bernard Shaw. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.

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    Compelling analysis of the structure of Shaw’s plays and his stage directions, arguing that he was a composer who carefully orchestrated and plotted his dramatic works. Further claims that Shaw worked through issues pertaining to his aesthetics via the ideas debated in the plays. Heavy reliance on plays from Shaw’s middle period, with only one (Caesar and Cleopatra) from his early period and none from the later.

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  • Crompton, Louis. Shaw the Dramatist. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969.

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    A general introduction to Shaw’s major plays to Saint Joan, though its argument that Shaw was a naturalist tout court has been compellingly refuted by many scholars. Offers fair social and historical assessments of the plays through contextualized readings.

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  • Dukore, Bernard F. Bernard Shaw, Playwright: Aspects of Shavian Drama. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1973.

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    A penetrating study of the theory and practice of Shaw’s drama, illustrated by a wide variety of Shaw’s writings on theater and his plays.

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  • Dukore, Bernard F. Shaw’s Theater. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

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    An excellent study of Shaw’s ideas of the theater from the point of view of performance and dramaturgy. Includes the authoritative account of Shaw’s work as a director, focusing on both his work in the theater as one of the profession’s first directors as we now define the position and on his notoriously lengthy stage directions that provide motivation and blocking for actors and minute details for set designers. Also analyses theatrical and metatheatrical elements in twenty-seven of Shaw’s plays.

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  • Gibbs, A. M. The Art and Mind of Shaw: Essays in Criticism. London: Macmillan, 1983.

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    An excellent range of essays. Opens with two chapters that interpret aspects of Shaw’s life and work that continue to be marginalized by critical orthodoxy. Followed by studies of major early and middle plays and concludes with two brief discussions of his late plays.

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  • Grene, Nicholas. Shaw: A Critical View. London: Macmillan, 1984.

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    A brisk, critical examination of Shaw’s plays from his earliest ones to Saint Joan. Rigorous in its analysis of Shaw’s strengths and limitations as a dramatist.

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  • Hugo, Leon. Bernard Shaw: Playwright and Preacher. London: Methuen, 1971.

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    The author admits that his study, written in apartheid-era South Africa, is rather propagandistic in nature. The book discusses Shaw’s social, political, and aesthetic beliefs before turning to a chronological study of the plays written up until Geneva, dismissing those written in the 1940s as being beneath Shaw’s standards. A decent introduction to Shaw’s work, but it suffers from production problems, with printing and pagination errors at the end ruining its concluding chapter and helpful appendices.

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  • Morgan, Margery M. The Shavian Playground: An Exploration of the Art of George Bernard Shaw. London: Methuen, 1972.

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    One of the most complete general studies of Shaw’s work, including a chapter on his novels. Covers his entire dramatic corpus, with three chapters devoted to his late plays. Places the emphasis on Shaw’s art over its social intent with particular attention given to Shaw’s plots as essential elements of his plays.

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  • Purdom, C. B. A Guide to the Plays of Bernard Shaw. London: Methuen, 1963.

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    A hybrid work in three parts: a biographical essay; general meditations on aspects of Shaw’s drama; and short descriptions of each of Shaw’s plays, including notes on various hallmark productions over the years. The strongest and most relevant section to today’s readers is the third, though there is a good yet all-too-brief argument on Shaw’s comic genius in the second.

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Early Plays

The following studies examine Shaw’s plays written in the late 19th century, while he was still very much a coterie author for the avant-garde and known mainly for his political and social views. However, the artistry of the earlier plays is too often ignored, much to their detriment and our understanding of the development of modern drama. Carpenter 1969 is an excellent study, though it is a fairly standard example of the aforementioned tendency. Marker 1998 provides a concise introduction to the earliest of these plays and makes some aesthetic evaluations. Adams 1971 situates Shaw in a broader context. As the dates attest, a new monograph on Shaw’s plays in his early period is needed.

  • Adams, Elsie B. Bernard Shaw and the Aesthetes. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1971.

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    Provides a thorough survey and examination of the artistic milieu in which Shaw moved and his early works were produced. Set against the backdrop of late 19th-century aestheticism and the pre-Raphaelite and decadent movements, it discusses Shaw’s concept of the role of art and the artist and counters some of Shaw’s more well-known and oft-quoted critical comments on the art for art’s sake creed.

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  • Carpenter, Charles A. Bernard Shaw and the Art of Destroying Ideals: The Early Plays. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969.

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    A social and political study arguing that, in his early plays, Shaw repeatedly attacks orthodoxies—or destroys ideals—and proposes and promotes new ideas to drive society toward positive progress. The ideals challenged herein include gender constructs, marriage, patriotism, heroism, and the beneficence and justice of our political, social, economic, and legal structures.

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  • Marker, Frederick J. “Shaw’s Early Plays.” In The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw. Edited by Christopher Innes, 103–123. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521562376.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizes Shaw’s move toward dialectics by focusing on his first three plays, Plays Unpleasant. While it makes the usual nod toward how these plays undermine stereotypes and theatrical conventions, it importantly highlights Shaw’s dramaturgical skills in these works.

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Middle Plays

Wisenthal 1974 is the only work that has yet to tackle Shaw’s middle plays only. This is perhaps due to the fact that such a study is daunting, given the number of important plays written in this period (1900–1925) and the complex and earth-shattering events that occurred in the world over this quarter century. Another reason for the relative lacuna in this focus has likely stemmed from a desire to see these works as a continuation and evolution of the work Shaw did in his more formative years as a playwright. Perhaps a hearty individual will soon write a more updated study devoted to this topic.

  • Wisenthal, J. L. The Marriage of Contraries: Bernard Shaw’s Middle Plays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.

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    Focuses on Shaw’s use of dialectics, in which he both presents and rejects absolutes in his prose and drama. Argues that the dialectical, nonjudgmental approach in Shaw’s drama leads to unresolved endings and a questioning of “truth” as a singular body of knowledge or orthodoxy. Individual chapters are devoted to the major plays from Man and Superman (1903) to Saint Joan (1923). A useful companion to Carpenter 1969 (cited under Early Plays), although different in approach.

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Late Plays

Far too often, these plays have been ignored not just in general studies of Shaw but also in more focused studies, whether concentrated on specific periods or individual plays. Evans 1998 offers a very good general introduction to these later plays, while Gahan 2003 makes a strong case for their importance. Gatch 1955 made perhaps the earliest argument for the need to account for these plays in Shaw’s oeuvre and life, placing them in their broader context; the fact that it has been ignored for so long says a great deal about critical tendencies and fashion.

  • Evans, T. F. “The Later Shaw.” In The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw. Edited by Christopher Innes, 240–258. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521562376.012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Considers the post-Saint Joan plays in the context of being mainly composed between the publication of The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928) and Everybody’s Political What’s What? (1944), suggesting that Shaw was more overtly political in this period. While Evans argues for the significance of these plays, he makes the questionable claim that they also mark a new direction for Shaw in rejecting traditional plot structures.

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  • Gahan, Peter. “The Achievement of Shaw’s Later Plays, 1920–1939.” SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 23 (2003): 27–35.

    DOI: 10.1353/shaw.2003.0007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines Shaw’s interwar plays. Argues against critical tendencies to be dismissive of their perceived formlessness, seeing in them, rather, examples of modernism and even postmodernism.

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  • Gatch, Katherine Haynes. “The Last Plays of Bernard Shaw: Dialectic and Despair.” In English Stage Comedy. Edited by W. K. Wimsatt, 126–147. New York: Columbia University Press, 1955.

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    Argues that coming out of the post-First World War era, the late plays are full of despair, replacing the note of hope that the earlier ones expressed for the role of critical intelligence in impelling society toward positive progress. Also emphasizes the increasing importance of irony and satire in Shaw’s oeuvre.

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Novels and Fiction

Although Shaw began his career as a novelist even before he became involved in criticism and playwrighting, a relatively small amount has been written on this aspect of his career. What little there is tends to focus on his novels, which Shaw referred to as his early apprentice work. While he is often regarded as a failed novelist, there needs to be more (or even some!) attention given to Shaw in general studies of the Victorian novel, whose conventions and tendencies he overturned in much of his early work just as he would later do with his plays in the theater world. Hugo 2003 bucks the tendency to write on Shaw’s novels to the detriment of his other fictional prose writings in his excellent study of Shaw’s late novella The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God. Dietrich 1996 remains the leader in the field of Shaw’s novels (with Hogan 1965 proving to be a readable and briefer precursor and Weintraub 1959 offering the first sustained argument for the novels’ importance). Miller 2013 points to other avenues of study, focusing instead on the material culture and economics of the late-Victorian publishing world and embracing a broader context. Beerbohm 1953, Sypher 1985, and Grene 1990 provide solid examinations of individual Shaw novels.

  • Beerbohm, Max. “A Cursory Conspectus of G.B.S.” In George Bernard Shaw: A Critical Survey. Edited by Louis Kronenberger, 3–6. Cleveland, OH: World, 1953.

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    Originally written in 1901 as a review of Shaw’s reprinted novel Cashel Byron’s Profession. Not so much a review of the book, which Beerbohm, a renowned caricaturist who would immortalize Shaw in several cartoons, considered mature on the whole despite it having been written early in Shaw’s career. Considers it typical of Shaw’s tendency in his drama to proselytize and attack the dominant morality, and its autobiographical aspects its weakness, claiming that each character is simply a representation of Shaw himself.

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  • Dietrich, Richard F. Bernard Shaw’s Novels: Portraits of the Artist as Man and Superman. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

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    A heavily revised version of Dietrich’s earlier book Portrait of the Artist as a Young Superman: A Study of Shaw’s Novels (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1969); these are the only book-length studies of Shaw’s novels. Taking a psychological approach, argues for the novels as reflecting Shaw’s movement from a mawkish youth toward a great man. Sees them as drawing on and subverting Victorian generic conventions, providing a proto-modernist (and postmodernist) template that would later be attributed to Joyce.

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  • Grene, Nicholas. “The Maturing of Immaturity: Shaw’s First Novel.” Irish University Review 20.2 (Autumn 1990): 225–238.

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    While Shaw claimed not to have changed anything when he first published Immaturity some fifty years after he first wrote it, this essay, in comparing the manuscript with the printed version, ably demonstrates that Shaw had, in fact, heavily revised his earlier effort into a more confident book.

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  • Hogan, Robert. “The Novels of Bernard Shaw.” English Literature in Transition 8.2 (1965): 63–114.

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    The first complete examination of the novels. Argues against the critical orthodoxy, which follows Shaw’s lead, to dismiss them as jejune, and his five years writing them as little more than an apprenticeship for the later dramatist. The most concise analytical survey of the novels to date.

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  • Hugo, Leon H. Bernard Shaw’s The Black Girl in Her Search for God: The Story Behind the Story. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003.

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    An excellent study of Shaw’s most popular and enduring fictional prose writing, detailing its genesis, philosophical and literary influences, Shaw’s collaboration with the wood engraver whose illustrations beautifully adorn it, and its reception and afterlife.

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  • Miller, Elizabeth Carolyn. Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

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    Sees the publication of Shaw’s novels in radical and socialist periodicals as part of a larger move against the capitalist press and mass media. His transition to drama is likewise understood to be part of this broader pattern, the theater conceived by the avant-garde as a site for potential conversion, the dissemination of ideas, and the cultivation of a countercultural movement.

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  • Sypher, Eileen. “Fabian Anti-Novel: Shaw’s An Unsocial Socialist.” Literature and History 11.2 (Fall 1985): 241–253.

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    Argues that An Unsocial Socialist deconstructs social binaries—especially gender in challenging patriarchal assumptions—and the genre of the Victorian sentimental novel. However, Sypher charges that, while doing so, Shaw also reinforces the novel’s conventions and reveals some of Fabian socialism’s contradictions.

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  • Weintraub, Stanley. “The Embryo Playwright in Bernard Shaw’s Early Novels.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 1.3 (Autumn 1959): 327–355.

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    Discusses Shaw’s novelistic qualities as a playwright and his dramatic qualities as a novelist, emphasizing the structural, plot, and thematic links between his novels and many of his plays.

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Shaw and Other Writers

As most studies of Shaw’s plays inevitably compare them with the works of other writers to demonstrate their radical form and content, it is inevitable that a significant and fertile area of study has been comparative in approach. The best place to begin is with Meisel 1963, which examines how Shaw reacted to existent forms of theater, adopting and renovating them to suit his needs; this justifiably remains one of the most cited works on Shaw and deserves a place on everyone’s shelf. Given that Ibsen was such a formative influence on Shaw’s dramaturgy, there has been a good amount of research into the links between these two modern greats, though none as sustained as Dukore 1980. The other productive route has been to tease out Shaw’s influence on and relationships with generations of other playwrights. Bertolini 1993 offers a number of comparative studies. Sidnell 1971, Black 1995, and Roche 2013 offer glimpses into the Irish Shaw by reading him alongside Yeats, Joyce, and Wilde—three of his major contemporaries. Furlong 1970 and Kennedy 1985 take different approaches to acknowledging Shaw’s important relationships with men of letters who were better known in their day but whose stock has unfairly plunged somewhat in retrospect; they deserve more recognition here for their significant roles in Shaw’s life and career and their own value as subjects of study. Meisel 2007 is perhaps the most eloquent of a growing number of studies that make the case for Stoppard as a contemporary Shavian.

  • Bertolini, John A., ed. Special Issue: Shaw and Other Playwrights. SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 13 (1993).

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    Includes a solid range of essays on Galsworthy, Coward, Osborne, Strindberg, Wilde, Bennett, and Rattigan, and a bibliography of writings up to that date on Shaw and other playwrights.

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  • Black, Martha Fodaski. Shaw and Joyce: “The Last Word in Stolentelling.” Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1995.

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    An impressive, wide-ranging, and attentive examination of Joyce that argues, counter to critical consensus, that Shaw was an important model for his younger countryman. Traces Shaw’s influence on Joyce, from the publication of The Quintessence of Ibsenism that inspired Joyce’s support of the Norwegian playwright, to the many references (coded and otherwise) to Shaw in Finnegans Wake, including the argument that the character Shaun was based on Shaw.

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  • Dukore, Bernard F. Money and Politics in Ibsen, Shaw, and Brecht. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980.

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    A penetrating comparative study of three of the most important radical, left-wing, reformist playwrights of their time. Groups plays according to specific social themes and issues such as prostitution, the professional classes, morality, and revolutionary prospects with money and politics as leitmotifs. Argues for a genealogy of direct influence—from Ibsen to Shaw to Brecht—and the politics of modern drama.

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  • Furlong, William B. Shaw and Chesterton: The Metaphysical Jesters. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970.

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    A study of the thirty-five year friendship (1901–1936) between Shaw and G. K. Chesterton, two of the most renowned writers of their time, that survived their philosophical differences and popular public debates and ended only with Chesterton’s death. Includes analysis of Chesterton’s alternately perceptive and flawed study George Bernard Shaw (1909) and Shaw’s critical response to it.

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  • Kennedy, Dennis. Granville Barker and the Dream of Theatre. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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    Includes important chapters on the Court Theatre seasons from 1904 to 1907, in which Barker and his business partner, J. E. Vedrenne, gave the modern drama a temporary home base and made a star out of Shaw in the process. Details their personal and professional relationships and the influence that each had on the other. A nice companion to Purdom 1956 (cited under Letters).

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  • Meisel, Martin. Shaw and the Nineteenth-Century Theater. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1963.

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    One of the most durable studies of Shaw. Traces Shaw’s experiences in the 19th-century theater as a boy attending plays in Dublin and later as a theater critic in London before examining how Shaw exploited, adapted, and subverted the conventions of a great many genres throughout his career, from his earliest to his later plays.

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  • Meisel, Martin. “Shaw, Stoppard, and ‘audible intelligibility.’” SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 27 (2007): 42–58.

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    A sophisticated essay, arguing that in the comedic play of ideas, Stoppard is Shaw’s great successor, drawing links through their understanding of “audible intelligibility,” that is, the language of the stage that is best suited to communicate those ideas and verbal comedy.

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  • Roche, Anthony. “Bernard Shaw and Hibernian Drama.” In Oscar Wilde in Context. Edited by Kerry Powell and Peter Raby, 177–185. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139060103.020Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Details the supportive relationship between the two most important Irish dramatists of the late 19th century and the influence that they had on one another. See also Eibhear Walshe, “Oscar Wilde,” in Kent 2015 (cited under General Works).

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  • Sidnell, M. J. “Hic and Ille: Shaw and Yeats.” In Theatre and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Ireland. Edited by Robert O’Driscoll, 156–178. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971.

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    One of the earliest and most sympathetic accounts of the long and complex Shaw–Yeats relationship, detailing both their criticisms of the other and their mutual admiration. Concludes with seven letters from Yeats to Shaw, nicely edited with explanations. See also Nicholas Grene, “W. B. Yeats,” in Kent 2015 (cited under General Works).

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Shaw’s Speeches, Essays, Journalism

One of the richest resources for the study of Shaw’s life, work, and context is the treasure trove of volumes that reproduce his speeches, essays, and journalism. Given his many interests and prolific output, there is a great deal here for the scholar. These works do much to paint a portrait of Shaw and his views, both over time and in a specific moment, but like his biographies they also come together to form a sort of cultural and political history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With Shaw’s trademark ability to analyze complex events, works of art, and bodies of thought in accessible prose peppered with his comic wit and tendency toward shocking statements, these highly readable volumes provide scholars with plenty of quotable material and lots of enjoyment. Shaw 1971 and Laurence 1962 provide some of Shaw’s best-known political writings. Meanwhile, Tauber 1963, Laurence 1981, Weintraub 1989, Jay and Moore 1989, and Dukore 1997 bring to light lesser studied aspects of Shaw’s life and work that deserve considerably more scholarly attention. Shaw 1931 and Tyson 1991–1996 provide glimpses into Shaw’s views of the intellectual and artistic life of his time through the lens of his book reviews.

  • Dukore, Bernard F., ed. Bernard Shaw on Cinema. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.

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    107 short writings by Shaw on the art and business of cinema as it went from a nascent medium to a dominant cultural form. Highlights and repeated topics include Shaw’s thoughts on censorship, his articulations on how film differs from theater, and the significance of the move from silent films to talkies, which was especially important for the author of discussion plays.

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  • Jay, Bill, and Margaret Moore, eds. Bernard Shaw on Photography. Salt Lake City, UT: Peregrine Smith, 1989.

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    Framed by a solid introduction that places Shaw’s interest in the relatively young art of photography in the context of the development of the field and its technological advances. Includes thirteen articles written by Shaw and illustrated with some of his own photographs, a small selection from the thousands archived in the London School of Economics.

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  • Laurence, Dan H., ed. Platform and Pulpit. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1962.

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    The texts of some of Shaw’s public speeches, debates, and lectures on a wide range of subjects. Not annotated but helpfully introduced; each text is dated, and its venue is noted. Only four are from the 19th century, during the last fifteen years of which Shaw was regularly—oftentimes thrice weekly—giving public lectures and talks; the majority of these earlier speeches have in all probability been lost to posterity.

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  • Laurence, Dan H., ed. Shaw’s Music: The Complete Musical Criticism. 3 vols. London: Max Reinhardt, 1981.

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    A comprehensive three-volume collection, the bulk covering the period when Shaw was most active as a music critic of some renown for various British papers. The first two volumes cover 1876–1890 and 1890–1893; the third includes his influential work The Perfect Wagnerite (1898) and continues to Shaw’s death in 1950, though he wrote comparably little on music in the 20th century.

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  • Shaw, Bernard. Pen Portraits and Reviews. London: Constable, 1931.

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    While a number of the reviews also appear in Tyson 1991–1996, there are several here that Tyson does not include. There are also some important reflections by Shaw on popular writers and personalities not collected in other works.

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  • Shaw, Bernard. The Road to Inequality: Ten Unpublished Lectures and Essays, 1884–1918. Edited by Louis Crompton. Boston: Beacon, 1971.

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    Good reading for those interested in Shaw’s brand of socialism and his perspectives on economics and social justice. Excellent introduction to Shaw’s thoughts that situates him in his context and critically assesses the strengths, weaknesses, and paradoxes of his writings. Each of the texts is minimally annotated but preceded by a foreword that provides some crucial background information.

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  • Tauber, Abraham, ed. Bernard Shaw on Language. New York: Philosophical Library, 1963.

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    A selection of Shaw’s writings on language, each of which is well-introduced. Covers his interest in the fields of phonetics and linguistics—encapsulated in his tendency to compose works in Pitman shorthand, in his play Pygmalion, and in his relationships with the eminent scholars James Lecky and Henry Sweet—and his quixotic appeals for alphabet reform. Includes sympathetic essays by Sir James Pitman.

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  • Tyson, Brian F., ed. Bernard Shaw’s Book Reviews. 2 vols. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991–1996.

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    The first volume covers Shaw’s time as book reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette (1885–1888) and the second his book reviews in other publications (1884–1950). The introductions situate the reviews in the context of the journalistic practices of the day, in the rise of New Journalism, and in Shaw’s life; they also suggest ways in which particular books that he reviewed influenced Shaw’s thoughts and writing.

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  • Weintraub, Stanley, ed. Bernard Shaw on the London Art Scene, 1885–1950. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1989.

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    Features an excellent contextualized introductory essay and informative prefaces to each of the 181 articles. Shaw’s writings cover a phenomenal number of subjects, from individual artists including Rodin, Epstein, and Troubetzkoy, for whom he sat as a subject to specific pieces of art, exhibitions, collections, genres, and the relationship between art, politics, and economics. Most were written anonymously, and there is an emphasis on the late 19th century, notably from when Shaw worked as an art critic for The World from 1886 to 1889.

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  • Wisenthal, J. L., and Daniel O’Leary, eds. What Shaw Really Wrote about the War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006.

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    A selection of Shaw’s writings on the First World War. The eight works chosen are among his most well-known, including Common Sense about the War, which turned him into a pariah in war-mad Britain, More Common Sense about the War, “Joy Riding at the Front,” and his commentary on and advice for the peace conference.

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Politics

Shaw was a political animal who famously claimed to scorn the art for art’s sake movement because he would not so much as lift a pen if he were not writing for a higher purpose. This has had the effect of instituting two main critical tendencies: to read Shaw’s politics through his plays or to read his plays through his politics. Alexander 2009 provides a different focus in situating Shaw’s views wholly in their political and philosophical context, opting to not examine the plays at all; this is the most broadly contextualized study of the subject to date. Carpenter 2009 should perhaps best be read in conjunction with both Carpenter 1969 (cited under Early Plays) and Alexander 2009 while West 1950 and Hummert 1973 should be regarded as precursors of these later, more sophisticated studies of Shaw’s socialism. Griffith 1993 is somewhat closer to Alexander in its approach, emphasizing the context instead of the plays. Yde 2013 takes a different tack, focusing on Shaw’s relationship to totalitarianism, which has too often been cast aside as a late-life folly but here gets thorough consideration and is rigorously analyzed. All of the works in this section focus on Shaw’s engagement with socialism in a broad sense, with studies in the succeeding sections engaged with other political and social issues that Shaw tended to approach from his socialist perspective.

  • Alexander, James. Shaw’s Controversial Socialism. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813033723.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is the most rigorous examination of Shaw’s socialism to date, neglecting the plays and instead focusing on the political ideologies and organizations that influenced Shaw’s thinking. Alexander, trained in history and political science, provides a contextually sensitive and thoroughly critical approach.

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  • Carpenter, Charles A. Shaw as Artist-Fabian. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813034058.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Engages with Shaw’s politics to show he sought to permeate society with socialist ideas through his plays and work, with a strong analysis of Shaw’s rhetorical and playwriting strategies as essential communicative elements. A nice companion piece to Alexander 2009.

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  • Griffith, Gareth. Socialism and Superior Brains. London: Routledge, 1993.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203210833Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Divided in two main parts. The first is an intellectual biography of Shaw and how he regarded socialism, while the second engages with a few of the political issues that most consumed Shaw’s attention: sexual equality, the Irish question, war and peace, and fascism and sovietism. Argues that Shaw was a serious though at times paradoxical political thinker.

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  • Hummert, Paul A. Bernard Shaw’s Marxian Romance. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1973.

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    Traces the influence of Marx, from the time that Shaw was converted by him (through the French translation of Das Kapital that he read in the Reading Room of the British Library in 1882) to Shaw’s work as a Fabian pamphleteer and activist and his polemical and dramatic writings over the course of his career.

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  • West, Alick. A Good Man Fallen among Fabians. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1950.

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    A study of the tensions between Shaw’s politics and his dramatic vision, with the focus on the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th.

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  • Yde, Matthew. Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism: Longing for Utopia. Houndsmill, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137330208Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A compelling and unflinching examination of the totalitarian strains in Shaw’s thought and work throughout his career. This study challenges the received wisdom that Shaw’s more controversial comments in the 1930s were isolated incidents, exaggerations, or the mere shock tactics of an agitator. However, the book is weakened a bit by its reliance on some older biographical interpretations that have been countered by scholars in the 21st century.

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Feminism and Gender Studies

Watson 1964 and Lorichs 1973 are representative of the earliest days of gender studies, in which Shaw was generally accorded the status of a feminist. This was challenged to some extent in the 1970s, as evidenced in the many views in Weintraub 1977 and the more nuanced treatment in Peters 1980. Gainor 1991 then completed the turn by controverting many prevalent assertions and making a solid case to view Shaw as a feminist more in word than in deed or his drama. Kelly 1994 offers something of a contemporary riposte, but Gainor’s argument appears to have become so accepted that no monograph has been published on the subject in the intervening years, with the only book-length study being the collection of essays in Hadfield and Reynolds 2013 more than twenty years later. Some of the contributors in the latter, plus Graham 2013, suggest that the critical consensus might be tilting back toward a more nuanced assessment of Shaw as a feminist, reading his relationship to women and the woman question—as it was known in his day—as decidedly complex. What the following list suggests is that while there has been ample study of Shaw and women, rare has been the effort to study the flip-side of the coin—masculinity—and a book-length study of the topic, either on its own or in conjunction with Shaw’s treatment of femininity, is needed. Shaw 1992 provides some material with which to begin such an examination. More work in the field also needs to be done on Shaw’s later years.

  • Gainor, J. Ellen. Shaw’s Daughters: Dramatic and Narrative Constructions of Gender. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991.

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    Carefully examining textual and contextual elements, Gainor persuasively argues that Shaw was not terribly progressive on the issue of women. A landmark study.

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  • Graham, Philip. “Bernard Shaw’s Neglected Role in English Feminism 1880–1914.” Journal of Gender Studies (2013): 1–17.

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    A balanced account that examines how Shaw has become excluded from feminist histories despite his active role in first-wave feminism in the period of 1880–1914. Includes a salutary response to Germaine Greer’s ahistorical and blinkered reading of Mrs. Warren’s Profession (in Weintraub 1977) to show that Shaw was closer to second wave feminism than most of its proponents have recognized.

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  • Hadfield, D. A., and Jean Reynolds, eds. Shaw and Feminisms: On Stage and Off. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.

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    The most recent book on the subject, this is an eclectic mix of essays that examines Shaw’s depiction of women in his plays, his relationship with actresses and other women, and his engagement with the women’s rights movements, questioning to what degree he might or might not be classified a feminist. Difference of opinion between the contributors on Shaw’s legacy suggests that the debate is ongoing.

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  • Kelly, Katherine E. “Shaw on the Woman Suffrage: A Minor Player on the Petticoat Platform.” SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 14 (1994): 67–81.

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    Challenges earlier assertions that depict Shaw as exclusively in favor of the suffrage movement, arguing that his relationship to it was more complex and, at times, ambivalent in his speeches, polemics, and plays. Concludes that because Shaw was not unabashedly in support of the suffragette movement, this does not mean that he was not a feminist.

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  • Lorichs, Sonia. The Unwomanly Woman in Bernard Shaw’s Drama and Her Social and Political Background. Uppsala, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 1973.

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    A mainly uncritical approval of Shaw’s feminism through one-dimensional readings of the depiction of women in his plays. Very dated when read alongside more recent scholarship that seeks to tease out more multifaceted aspects of Shaw’s relationship to feminism and contradictions in his treatment of gender throughout his oeuvre.

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  • Peters, Margot. Bernard Shaw and the Actresses. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1980.

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    Engaging study of Shaw’s relationships—both professional and amorous—with many of the leading actresses of his day. Provides a novel window into his attitudes toward women, but light on the last decades of Shaw’s life. There is room for further studies of Shaw’s relationships with film actresses (Wendy Hiller, Vivien Leigh), his consideration of major foreign actresses (Eleonora Duse, Sarah Bernhardt), and his more platonic relationships (Sybil Thorndike).

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  • Peters, Sally. “Shaw’s Life: A Feminist in Spite of Himself.” In The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw. Edited by Christopher Innes, 3–24. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521562376.001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    More of a biographical sketch of Shaw than a feminist study. The purported feminist focus is really slanted more toward gender and sexuality in a broader sense.

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  • Shaw, Bernard. Shaw on Women. Edited by Mary Chenoweth Stratton. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1992.

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    A very slim volume, minimally annotated, composed of some of Shaw’s uncollected writings on or for women including his thoughts on moral education for women, a few letters, and a Fabian tract on women as councilors. Includes a short introduction by Margot Peters that provides some context.

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  • Watson, Barbara Bellow. A Shavian Guide to the Intelligent Woman. London: Chatto and Windus, 1964.

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    A wholly appreciative examination of Shaw’s depiction of women with little nuance offered. Sees him as entirely progressive in creating so many strong, central female characters throughout his oeuvre.

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  • Weintraub, Rodelle, ed. Fabian Feminist: Bernard Shaw and Woman. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977.

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    A mix of essays, both strong and weak, most of which are laudatory in their assessment of Shaw’s feminism. Also includes a few of Shaw’s writings on feminist issues.

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Religion

Born in mid-19th-century Dublin, Shaw’s life was defined by religion, circumscribing his social circle and policing the boundaries of public morality. Yet from a very young age Shaw identified with Mephistopheles and would at various times refer to himself as an atheist. He attacked what he termed Crosstianity: the tendency of organized religion to support the status quo and power brokers while teaching humility and the virtues of poverty to the poor to keep them in line. Against this, he spoke of Christianity as the accumulated wisdom of Christ’s teachings, which he aligned with Fabian socialism. He later created his own religion, Creative Evolution, which allows for the positive progression of humankind through willful acts and thoughts. Some of his most important works such as The Devil’s Disciple, Major Barbara, and Saint Joan have religious subjects, as do a number of his lesser-read plays and writings including Androcles and the Lion, The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet, and The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God. While these are among the most obvious examples, he makes tremendous use of the religious concept of conversion often in a secular sense to drive his dramaturgy, with one character often being torn by two or more other characters, competing ideas, or allegiances. While the studies included here attest to the importance of the subject of religion in Shaw’s life and work and their dates demonstrate that it has attracted scholarly attention throughout the years, there have been considerably fewer examinations in recent years, perhaps owing to a younger generation’s tendency to avoid the subject and instead turn their attention to other matters, thus pointing to the need for a new assessment. The best studies of Shaw’s relationship with religion and religious themes, and specifically his philosophies of the Life Force and Creative Evolution, are Smith 1982, Gibbs 1992, and Baker 2002. Abbott 1965 is more restricted in its definition of religion, concerned as it is with institutional religions. Barr 1973 instead limits the study of religion to Shaw’s plays and his dramaturgy. Berst 1981 remains a good resource for early scholarship on the subject and a range of views. Smith 1967 offers a solid variety of Shaw’s writings on the subject, making it a helpful introductory resource.

  • Abbott, Anthony S. Shaw and Christianity. New York: Seabury, 1965.

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    Neatly divided into two halves. The first discusses Shaw’s philosophical reactions to institutional religion, while the second, unlike other works, engages with the subject as expressed in his plays, in particular The Devil’s Disciple, The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet, Major Barbara, Androcles and the Lion, Saint Joan, and The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles. Its exclusion of Back to Methuselah reflects the fact that it is not focused on Shaw’s Creative Evolution.

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  • Baker, Stuart E. Bernard Shaw’s Remarkable Religion: A Faith that Fits the Facts. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

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    Considers Shaw as a prophet and not a theologian, philosopher, or scientist proper, as demonstrated by his patchwork pronouncements and contradictions. The most systematic and detailed study of Shaw and religion to date, it oddly fails to engage with or even to cite Barr 1973 as a significant precursor.

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  • Barr, Alan P. Victorian Stage Pulpiteer: Bernard Shaw’s Crusade. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1973.

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    A study of Shaw as a religious dramatist, making the case that he is deeply religious even in repeatedly eschewing organized religions. Argues that he viewed religion as a means of reforming humanity, which aligns with the view of Shaw as a world-betterer. A highly readable work.

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  • Berst, Charles A., ed. Special Issue: Shaw and Religion. SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 1 (1981).

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    Includes essays that examine aspects of Shaw’s relationships with religion, with focus on him as a religious playwright, his concepts of God and religion, and Shaw as a prophet. Also features an excellent bibliography of works on the subject of Shaw and religion compiled by Charles A. Carpenter.

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  • Gibbs, A. M. “Shaw and Creative Evolution.” In Irish Writers and Religion. Edited by Robert Welch, 75–88. Gerrards Cross, UK: Smythe, 1992.

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    An excellent, concise summation of the religious and philosophical foundation of Shaw’s Creative Evolution. Argues that while Shaw offers a new creed, the seriousness of his beliefs and his proposals are undermined at times by his satirical and skeptical tendencies.

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  • Smith, Warren Sylvester, ed. Shaw on Religion. London: Constable, 1967.

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    Writings culled from selected passages of Shaw’s prefaces, parts of his novella The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God, periodical articles, and a few previously unpublished writings. Shaw had intended to publish these in the standard edition volumes of his work, but it appears that he never got beyond drafting a table of contents. A middling introduction; writings not annotated, but original sources indicated.

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  • Smith, Warren Sylvester. Bishop of Everywhere: Bernard Shaw and the Life Force. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1982.

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    Details Shaw’s religious concerns and his concepts of Creative Evolution and the Life Force. Refutes the assertion in Abbott 1965 that Shaw was a recusant Christian and the popular image of Shaw as an atheist, noting that Shaw claimed he was the latter because he was against the rigid orthodoxies of institutional religions, but he was deeply religious in a modern sense.

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Philosophy

If Shaw did not invent the term “artist-philosopher,” he certainly appropriated it on repeated occasions and made much use of it to describe himself and all revolutionary thinkers. As many scholars have noted, Shaw engaged with an incredible number of philosophers in a wide variety of fields of thought, though he never did produce a body of writing that one could say amounted to a particular philosophy. But he did enjoy philosophizing in all of his writings, and he took this tendency to great lengths in injecting philosophy into the theater, thereby defining and creating the drama of ideas. There are two main strands in the study of Shaw and philosophy: (i) Shaw and his relationship to philosophers, as is evidenced in Nethercot 1954, Levin 1973, and Reynolds 1999; and (ii) how philosophy informs Shaw’s writings, such as Turco 1976, Whitman 1977, Thomas 1992, and Berg 1998. Some of the better works on the subject, including Puchner 2010, Albert 2012, and Kornhaber 2012, blend these two tendencies.

  • Albert, Sidney P. Shaw, Plato, and Euripides: Classical Currents in Major Barbara. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813037646.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The most intelligent and sustained study of a single Shaw play. Traces the philosophical contexts for and influences on Shaw’s writing and thinking. Considers Major Barbara—which features an academic character that Shaw modeled on Gilbert Murray, a close friend and the Oxford Regius Professor of Greek—as the Shavian version of Plato’s Republic and Euripides’s Bacchae.

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  • Berg, Fredric. “Structure and Philosophy in Man and Superman and Major Barbara.” In The Cambridge Companion to George Bernard Shaw. Edited by Christopher Innes, 144–161. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521562376.007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that it is in Man and Superman that Shaw creates the triangular dramatic structure wherein three characters articulate strong and opposing points of view, the basic struggles being between the forces of progress against the forces of convention and tradition, and the impact of these upon the mind and soul of a prospective convert. Extends this to show how the technique was further developed in Major Barabara.

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  • Kornhaber, David. “Nietzsche, Shaw, Stoppard: Theatre and Philosophy in the British Tradition.” Philosophy and Literature 36.1 (April 2012): 79–95.

    DOI: 10.1353/phl.2012.0012Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that since Shaw’s critical engagement with Nietzsche’s work, in particular The Birth of Tragedy, British theater practitioners have attempted to define the relationship between theater and philosophy. Whereas Nietzsche viewed the two symbiotically co-existing, with philosophy as the dominant partner, Shaw, unlike dramatists elsewhere, proffered the British tradition of viewing theater replacing philosophy as the venue for intellectual inquiry. Sees this fraught struggle embodied in more recent years in Stoppard’s plays.

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  • Levin, Gerald. “Shaw, Butler, and Kant.” Philological Quarterly 52.1 (January 1973): 142–156.

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    Claims that Shaw’s and Kant’s ideas align in some ways, but that, despite a few references Shaw makes to Kant, he was likely only exposed to and influenced by Kant in an indirect manner through other writers such as Samuel Butler.

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  • Nethercot, Arthur. “Bernard Shaw, Philosopher.” PMLA 69.1 (March 1954): 57–75.

    DOI: 10.2307/460127Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that while Shaw posited himself as a philosopher and an artist-philosopher, his philosophical writings are fragmented and do not provide a coherent philosophy and that despite the range of philosophers that Shaw mentions throughout his writings, much of his understanding of their ideas was more superficial than profound. Provides an incredibly concise analytical survey of the many thinkers that Shaw referenced over time.

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  • Puchner, Martin. The Drama of Ideas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199730322.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A philosophical study of the drama of ideas, from its origins in Socratic dialogue to the early 21st century. A section is devoted to Shaw, whose theater embodies the interplay between drama and ideas more than any other playwright. Puchner posits Shaw as the savior of Socratic and Platonic drama.

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  • Reynolds, Jean. Pygmalion’s Wordplay: The Postmodern Shaw. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999.

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    The focus of this slight volume is not so much on the play itself; rather, it examines the play and Shaw’s writings to argue that he is an important precursor of contemporary philosophy, linguistics, and psychology, most especially the work of Jacques Derrida. Asserts, too, that Shaw simultaneously offers critiques of such bodies of thought.

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  • Thomas, Francis-Noël. Writer Writing: Philosophic Acts in Literature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Suggests that Shaw is a consummate dramatist, while the didacticist of the pamphlets and prefaces was his alter-ego, GBS. Shaw and Proust are the major case studies in this slim and intelligent work, reading the two men to counter critical orthodoxies that the one is merely pragmatic while the other is wholly aesthetic and suggesting that they are, rather, much more complex.

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  • Turco, Alfred, Jr. Shaw’s Moral Vision: The Self and Salvation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1976.

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    A sophisticated critical treatment of the development of Shaw’s thinking as evidenced in all of the genres in which he wrote. Considers Shaw’s plays as major philosophical engagements and inquiries.

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  • Whitman, Robert F. Shaw and the Play of Ideas. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977.

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    A rather uncritical book that admits it proselytizes Shaw’s views, it emphasizes Shaw’s value as a philosopher and the importance of his concept of drama as being the conflict of ideas.

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Theory, Context, and Language

There has been much excellent work on Shaw that explores less popular subjects. But owing to his myriad interests, there are a great many more out there for researchers to tackle. The following includes some major examinations of his life and work from different perspectives. Gahan 2004 is a highly sophisticated poststructuralist study, not to be approached by the neophyte in literary theory. If there is an overarching theme with most of these works, it is language. Ohmann 1962 and Mills 1969 are good places to begin, but a more recent work on language incorporating some of the theoretical concerns of Gahan 2004 is needed. Weintraub 1982 and Wisenthal 1988 take historical approaches to the study of Shaw, as so many critics do. In many ways, Conolly 2009 accounts for a number of these approaches, writing of Shaw’s fascinating historical relationship with the BBC.

  • Conolly, L. W. Bernard Shaw and the BBC. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009.

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    Details Shaw’s relationship with the BBC from its origins in 1923 until his death in 1950, including his role as standardizer of on-air speech and his many broadcasted talks and plays. Notes how Shaw embraced and exploited the new medium of radio from the outset, seeing it as a way of more readily reaching the masses.

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  • Gahan, Peter. Shaw Shadows: Rereading the Texts of Bernard Shaw. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

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    A poststructuralist work of great merit, this is the most sophisticated theoretical examination of Shaw and his writings to date. Divided into two parts. The first introduces poststructuralist concepts and reads different types of Shaw’s writings. The second features sustained analyses of some of Shaw’s less-considered plays through the same theoretical lens.

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  • Mills, John A. Language and Laughter: Comic Diction in the Plays of Bernard Shaw. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1969.

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    Focuses on Shaw’s dramatic language to bridge the intellectual and comedic impulses in Shaw’s oeuvre, which are too often discussed apart or regarded as diametrically opposed, to show how they work hand-in-hand. Comments at length on such elements as Shaw’s use of dialect, linguistic satire, jargon, repetition, and punning.

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  • Ohmann, Richard M. Shaw: The Style and the Man. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1962.

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    The most thorough linguistic examination of Shaw’s writing style to date. Argues that Shaw’s style, especially his rhetoric in his non-dramatic writing, exemplifies a highly organized mind working against the chaos of the world to make sense of it for his audience, and simultaneously attests to humanity’s ability to control itself and its environment by rejecting the cult of tradition.

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  • Silver, Arnold. Bernard Shaw: The Darker Side. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1982.

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    Takes a biographical approach to a few of Shaw’s works, emphasizing the more destructive elements in his work and life, notably his impassioned support of eugenics, totalitarian and non-democratic forms of politics, and heartless attacks on living intimates, namely, lovers, family, and colleagues. Can be read as a precursor of sorts to Yde 2013 (cited under Politics).

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  • Weintraub, Stanley. The Unexpected Shaw: Biographical Approaches to G.B.S. and His Work. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982.

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    A collection of previously published essays. As a whole, demonstrates how biographical approaches can lead to enriched understandings of a writer’s oeuvre. Also reveals, or highlights, aspects of Shaw’s life that counter his image in the popular imagination.

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  • Wisenthal, J. L. Shaw’s Sense of History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Situates Shaw in the Victorian intellectual context, and specifically amid debates on historiography. Examines both Shaw’s history plays—ten of his plays are categorized as such—and those concerned with the historical moment of the present. An excellent analysis of how history speaks to the contemporary world in Shaw’s work.

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The Irish Shaw

Shaw quipped that although he had only spent some twenty years in Ireland and most of the rest in England, he was very much an Irishman because those twenty came first and they indelibly marked him. Scholars of Irish studies made strong collective cases throughout the 1980s and 1990s for the inclusion of Yeats and Joyce to be considered as Irish first and foremost. Similar work has been more recently undertaken on behalf of Shaw’s contemporary, Oscar Wilde. Shaw has long been considered as Irish by Shavians, but Irish scholars have been more reticent to claim him as their own. His socialism, English residency, and lack of imaginative engagement with Ireland have marked him as distinctly not Irish by many insular cultural nationalists over the years. However, more work has been produced in the past two decades by those located both within and beyond the field of Irish studies to repatriate—or hibernicize—Shaw. Gahan 2010 demonstrates that there is a great deal currently being done and that the field is open to further explorations. The chapter in Kiberd 1995 is notable for appearing in the most quoted book in Irish studies in the last twenty years. The little recognition that Shaw has received as an Irishman has almost wholly been understood through the lens of his one full-length, Irish-set play, John Bull’s Other Island. Kent 2013 analyzes this play not only in relation to Ireland but also Shaw’s complex relationship with feminism. Mercier 1994 represents another important chapter on Shaw by a leader in Irish studies, but it was published posthumously and perhaps as a result did not have as much impact on the field as it might have had. Similarly, the arguments in Black 1995 appear to have remained ignored or at best marginalized in both Irish and Joyce studies. Ussher 1957 proves that authors have long held Shaw in esteem as a great Irish writer, even if critics have not. Shaw 2001 is an excellent collection of Shaw’s political musings on Ireland throughout his life. Ritschel 2011 offers a nice mix of Shaw’s political and aesthetic engagement with Ireland, providing good commentary on both of these aspects and oftentimes blending them together. Rosset 1964 provides a more biographical engagement with Shaw’s Irish side.

  • Black, Martha Fodaski. Shaw and Joyce: “The Last Word in Stolentelling.” Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1995.

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    A compelling study that is at once minute and broad in its attention to the relationship between Shaw and Joyce to make the case for Shaw as important influence on his fellow Irishman.

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  • Gahan, Peter, ed. Special Issue: Shaw and the Irish Literary Tradition. SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 30 (2010).

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    Includes an excellent introduction and essays on a wide range of issues, from Irish influences on Shaw, Shaw’s influences on other Irish writers, his Irish-set plays, and his relationships with several notable Irish individuals. Features a very useful chronological list of Shaw productions in Ireland from 1900 to 2009.

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  • Kent, Brad. “The Politics of Shaw’s Irish Women in John Bull’s Other Island.” In Shaw and Feminisms: On Stage and Off. Edited by D. A. Hadfield and Jean Reynolds, 73–91. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2013.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813042435.003.0004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Places Shaw’s only full-length Irish play in a long Irish literary tradition and challenges academic tendencies in Irish studies and Irish feminism that neglect Shaw’s oeuvre.

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  • Kiberd, Declan. “John Bull’s Other Islander: Bernard Shaw.” In Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation. By Declan Kiberd, 51–63. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

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    An important chapter of a landmark work in the field of Irish studies. Provides the first postcolonial analysis of Shaw’s John Bull’s Other Island and considers it a key text in an incredibly broad survey of how Irish writers have imagined, or invented, Ireland as a modern nation. A later chapter in the book is dedicated to Saint Joan. Kiberd also includes a solid chapter on Shaw’s Arms and the Man in his successor study Irish Classics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).

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  • Mercier, Vivian. “Bernard Shaw: Irish International.” In Modern Irish Literature: Sources and Founders. By Vivian Mercier, 110–156. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

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    A wide-ranging essay, both appreciative and critical, that covers much of Shaw’s early life. Makes the case to read Shaw in the context of his Irish upbringing and for his influence on Irish letters. Mercier challenges Shaw’s depictions of his parents through a sensitive account of his own Irish Protestant background. Includes one of the better readings of John Bull’s Other Island that deserves more recognition.

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  • Ritschel, Nelson O’Ceallaigh. Shaw, Synge, Connolly, and Socialist Provocation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011.

    DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813036519.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A well-documented and original examination of Shaw’s influence on and engagement with Irish socialism in the pre-independence period. Achieves a nice balance between its explication and analysis of Irish politics and its detailing of a call-and-response narrative between Shaw and left-wing Irish authors, including Fred Ryan, J. M. Synge, and James Connolly.

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  • Rosset, B. C. Shaw of Dublin: The Formative Years. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1964.

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    Still the most substantial look at Shaw’s Irish background. A fresh, sustained look at these aspects of Shaw’s life is much needed.

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  • Shaw, Bernard. The Matter with Ireland. 2d ed. Edited by Dan H. Laurence and David H. Greene. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2001.

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    An updated and revised edition of the 1962 collection of Shaw’s Irish writings and platform speeches, with thirteen new essays. The more than sixty writings cover the period from 1886 to 1950, during which time Ireland went through major upheavals in its march toward independence. Covering a wide variety of issues, this collection demonstrates the continued attention that Shaw gave to his native country.

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  • Ussher, Arland. Three Great Irishmen: Shaw, Yeats, Joyce. New York: New American Library, 1957.

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    An important forerunner to the more contemporary project of hibernicizing these writers who were such powerful influences on world literature in the 20th century. Argues that knowledge of their Irish backgrounds is essential to understand them. Not researched, but well-read in the works of the men studied and with some personal knowledge of them, this is a compendium of three highly readable, reflective, personal essays.

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Shaw and Other Countries

A particularly rich and ostensibly unlimited avenue of study is Shaw and his interactions with countries other than Britain and Ireland. These works sometimes take a look at his relationship with foreign cultures but most often they engage with how Shaw’s plays have been received and adapted by people in other polities. As a number of these works were produced some years ago, they are to some extent forerunners of the current field of intercultural theater, a particularly rich vein that could be further explored using Shaw as a point of entry, given his marked political views and the relationship of his drama of ideas to its language-driven dramaturgical style. A good starting place for surveys of Shaw’s relationships with several countries is special issue on Shaw around the World in Shaw Review (20.1, 1977); this is similar in approach to Conolly, et al. 1991. See also special issue on Shaw Abroad in SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies (5, 1985). Conolly 2011, Li 2007, Motoyama 1977, Nathan 1994, Pharand 2000, Shaw 1986, and Soboleva and Wrenn 2012 provide country-specific studies.

  • Conolly, L. W. The Shaw Festival: The First Fifty Years. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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    An excellent account of the foundation and inner workings of one of the world’s largest and most respected repertory theater companies. Engagingly discusses the fortunes of Shaw’s plays on the stage, different adaptations of his works over the years, and the politics of theater and financing the arts in Canada.

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  • Conolly, L. W., Ellen M. Pearson, and Jennifer C. Preston, eds. Bernard Shaw—On Stage: Papers from the 1989 International Shaw Conference. Guelph, ON: University of Guelph, 1991.

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    Seven of the fourteen essays deal with Shaw and other countries: America, Russia, France, Egypt and the Arab world, Japan, the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), and Sweden. These essays focus either on Shaw’s engagement with these countries and their cultures or on Shaw’s plays in performance there.

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  • Li, Kay. Bernard Shaw and China: Cross-Cultural Encounters. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.

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    While Shaw’s interaction and engagement with Chinese culture was a product of his late age and remained quite limited, perhaps not surprisingly, given his left-wing politics, the Chinese have taken to Shaw’s work over the years. The main focus is on performances and the uses of Shaw’s plays in the world’s largest Communist country, touching upon such issues as cultural appropriation and the politics of adaptation and translation.

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  • Motoyama, Mutsuko. “Shaw in the Japanese Theatre.” Shaw Review 20.1 (January 1977): 49–57.

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    Argues that the dominance of Kabuki, the tastes of the native new drama movement, and the inability of interpreters to understand Shaw’s drama have been the main contributing factors in the lack of enthusiasm for Shaw’s plays in Japan.

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  • Nathan, Rhoda B. “A Fabian Down Under: Shaw’s Plays in the Antipodes.” SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 14 (1994): 167–176.

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    A brisk history that details Shaw’s successes on the stages of Australia and New Zealand in the first half of the 20th century and the central role of his plays in the history of their repertory theaters.

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  • Pharand, Michel W. Bernard Shaw and the French. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.

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    An excellent account of Shaw’s engagement with French historical figures, writers, artists, translators, and thinkers. Reveals the influence of French culture on Shaw—alternately referred to as the Irish Molière, the Irish Rousseau, and the Irish Voltaire—and his often tempestuous relationship with the French stage, which he only conquered, perhaps predictably, with Sainte Jeanne.

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  • Shaw, George Bernard. Bernard Shaw’s Letters to Siegfried Trebitsch. Edited by Samuel A. Weiss. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1986.

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    Essentially provides a record of Shaw’s long engagement with, admiration of, and turbulent relationship with Germanic countries. Despite the importance of Germanic culture to Shaw and his reception in Germanic countries, a compelling monograph on the subject has yet to be written in English.

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  • Soboleva, Olga, and Angus Wrenn. The Only Hope of the World: George Bernard Shaw and Russia. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2012.

    DOI: 10.3726/978-3-0353-0331-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Details Shaw’s complex relationship with Russian literature, touching upon Tolstoy and Gorky, Shaw’s Russian-themed writings, and his friendships with and admiration for turn-of-the-century anti-Tsarist anarchist émigrés in London. Ends with a discussion of Shaw’s uncritical support of post-revolution communist dictatorial politics that sits paradoxically and often uncomfortably alongside his otherwise humanist social values.

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