In a prior article, I jested that I placed George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell on a personal Index Librorum Prohibitorum. In the case of the latter, I had forgotten that I had read his Animal Farm and found it a great work against Communism. But, I said to myself that I should never read Shaw. Recently, my brother made the astounding comment that G. K. Chesterton and Shaw were friends! At which point, my stance against George Bernard Shaw struck me as ungenerous and ignorant. Chesterton’s writings about Shaw never gave the impression that they were friends. Whether this is due to Chesterton’s style or my lack of perception, I do not know.
Avidly reading the first two acts of the play Man and Superman induces me to eat crow about my statements to the effect that Shaw ought never be read. Most bloggers find it an incredibly bitter experience to admit to writing foolishly or out of ignorance, but it is my duty to admit that I did just that. Hopefully, this article might stand as a reparation to this great playwright.
The play is deliciously seasoned with comedic banter, frank social commentary, and a surprisingly Chestertonian use of paradox. So, you might say that these two writers’ relationship was a fortuitous one. (Upon Chesterton’s death, Shaw declared that Chesterton was a man of colossal genius.) A surprisingly shocking paradox was when Jack Tanner referred to the devil as the father of morality! In context, morality has become nothing more than social propriety in modern England. It prevents a family from showing compassion for one of their daughters who has become pregnant until she makes it manifest that she has been at least secretly married. Also, it is fashionable for the bourgeois to claim that they are progressive thinkers, but remain tied to old morays–a classic example of hypocrisy.
And the characters are delineated with remarkable care–sometimes taking two pages of description, which makes me doubt whether the play was intended to be performed on stage. Jack Tanner, the anarchist, is perhaps the most interesting of the characters. He is certainly the most droll due to his frankness. He notes how certain women try to get a man in their clutches in order to fulfill their vital role. (Vital, as in pertaining the the values of life, i.e. childbearing.) These women care nothing about the higher aspirations of their husbands and drive them away from aesthetic endeavors so that they might pursue economic ones for the benefit of their family. This is especially important because Tanner wishes to drive Octavius, a poet, away from marrying a certain young lady, noting that there are few struggles as fierce as that between the Vital woman and the Artistic man–or something along those lines. He provides much food for thought.
So, there you have it: my recommendation to read George Bernard Shaw–something I never thought I should do in my life!