(1856-1950) Irish-born playwright, critic and author, in the UK from 1876, where he remained ferociously active throughout a writing career lasting almost seventy-five years (see Longevity (in Writers and Publications)); though often referred to as GBS, he increasingly wrote as Bernard Shaw. Under whatever form of his name, he was central to the Fabian Society from its founding in 1884, editing Fabian Essays (anth 1889) and beginning contentious intellectual friendships with G K Chesterton and H G Wells soon after. His late summation of the Utopian socialism that underwrote his nonfiction and fiction alike was most massively presented as The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism (1928; rev vt The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism 1937 2vols). The much later Everybody's Political What's What (1944) reflected the impact of World War Two on his thinking, at the heart of which remained a prescient contempt for all valuations of human selfhood based on the Homo economicus model (see Economics).
Some of Shaw's early plays are of some interest for their explorations into the fantastic. Arms and the Man (performed 1894; in Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, coll 1898 2vols) is Ruritanian; Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (1903; performed minus the Don Juan in Hell sequence 21 May 1905; whole performed 1915) discusses, in the Hell adumbrated at the close of Mozart's Don Giovanni (1787), the concept of the Superman (but does not present one on stage) and "Creative Evolution", which is seen to be both immanent and self-projected toward perfection, all shaped on the ground through Eugenics; and Androcles and the Lion (performed 1912; as title of omni 1916) contains fantasy elements; though in all cases these elements are deployed with a cool Shavian sanity which repudiates any sense of escapism. Press Cuttings (performed 1909; 1909 chap), a play about women's rights set in the Near Future, is close to sf, and the destruction of the old world order in Heartbreak House (written before 1917; in coll 1919; performed 1920) seemed backward-looking only because of the play's delayed publication, during which period World War One – this conflict deeply affected the noncombatant Shaw, who was in his sixties – demonstrated the case it made for cultural heartbreak: it is a lament composed in anticipation of the catastrophe; the Inventions of its aged protagonist are death machines.
Shaw's first genuine sf play, an important example of the Scientific Romance, is Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921; rev 1921 UK; performed 1922: further rev several times; much rev 1945), a five-part depiction of mankind's Evolution – it was his culminating presentation of Creative Evolution – from the time of Genesis (see Adam and Eve) into the Far Future, during the course of which people have become long-lived (see Immortality) and, by the year 31,920 CE, are on the verge of suffering corporeal Transcendence into disembodied thought-entities; incidental sf devices include cellphone equivalents, a kind of Force Field and the revelation that by 3000 CE nothing whatever remains of London. The play's reputation has suffered not only from the variable quality of its successive sequences, but from an implied conflation of Eugenics and the reticently argued but unmistakably anti-Darwinian Lamarckian principles that underlie his vision of humanity's rapid progress upwards.
Hereafter Shaw's plays – which have only posthumously escaped the charge that their dissolution of realist conventions simply or at all demonstrated the senility of their author – increasingly utilized sf or fantasy modes to make a series of remarkably bleak though sometimes scattershot utterances about Homo sapiens and about the chances of the species ever doing well. The Apple Cart: A Political Extravaganza (performed 1929; 1930), set in the UK near the end of the century after a Channel Tunnel has been built, ironically posits monarchism as an answer to the power of great corporations. Several later plays more scathingly and far-rangingly explore similar material. Too True to be Good: A Political Extravaganza (performed 1932), a dream fantasy about the Near Future, and On the Rocks: A Political Comedy (performed 1933), in which democracy fails in Near Future England and a Dystopian government takes over, were both assembled in Too True to be Good, Village Wooing & On the Rocks (coll 1934). The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles: A Vision of Judgment (performed 1935), a fantasy that climaxes with "the angels weeding the garden" so that the unworthy of the world disappear utterly, and The Millionairess (performed 1936), a Satire on Eugenics set on a Pacific Island, again in the Near Future, were both assembled in The Simpleton, The Six of Calais, and the Millionairess (coll 1936). Geneva: A Fancied Page of History (performed 1938; 1939) satirizes contemporary dictators, perhaps too mildly. Buoyant Billions: A Comedy of No Manners (1948 Switzerland; first performed in English 1949) [see Checklist for editions] presents some terminal Utopian thoughts in the guise of fantasy, and Farfetched Fables – in Buoyant Billions, Farfetched Fables, and Shakes versus Shav. (coll 1950) – visits a distant future distinct from that envisioned at the end of Back to Methuselah.
None of Shaw's nineteenth-century novels are of genre interest, but The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God (1932 chap) is a fantasy Satire on evolving views of Religion, and some of the items assembled in Short Stories: Scraps and Shavings (coll 1932) are sf, including "Aerial Football: The New Game" (November 1907 The Neolith). Both books were assembled with revisions as Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings (omni 1934; vt The Black Girl in Search of God, and Some Lesser Tales 1946). Shaw early developed a strategy for his dramatic works, where his plays as published are accompanied by extensive prefaces in which various theses, some of broad sf interest, are eloquently expounded; he developed no similar strategy for his fiction, which he seemed (correctly) to think of as peripheral. Bernard Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1925. [JC]
see also: Recursive SF; Theatre.
George Bernard Shaw
born Dublin, Ireland: 26 July 1856
died Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire: 2 November 1950
Many of Shaw's plays were issued for the use of actors long before their official release, and upon official release were generally revised; moreover, during the last half-century of his life – financial independence allowing him to subsidize this activity – Shaw was in the habit of making constant revisions, many of them unsignalled, to the extremely numerous reprints of his work. We have not attempted to trace these changes.
- Arms and the Man [first performed 21 April 1894 Avenue Theatre, London]
- Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant (London: Grant Richards, 1898) [coll: published in two volumes: the second volume, Plays: Pleasant, contains Arms and the Man: hb/]
- Man and Superman: A Comedy and a Philosophy (London: Constable and Company, 1903) [play: performed minus the Don Juan in Hell sequence 21 May 1905: whole first performed 11 June 1915 Lyceum, Edinburgh, Scotland: hb/nonpictorial]
- Press Cuttings: (A Topical Sketch Compiled from the Editorial and Correspondence Columns of the Daily Papers During the Woman's War in 1909) (London: Constable and Company, 1909) [play: chap: first performed 27 September 1909, Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, England: hb/]
- Androcles and the Lion [first performed 25 November 1912 Kleines Theatre, Berlin]
- Heartbreak House: A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes [written by 1917: first performed 10 November 1920 Garrick Theatre, New York]
- Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (New York: Brentano's, 1921) [play: two parts first performed 27 February 1922; second two parts 6 March 1922; final part 13 March 1922; all Garrick Theatre, New York: hb/photo of Shaw]
- The Apple Cart: A Political Extravaganza (London: Constable and Company, 1930) [play: first performed 14 June 1929 Teatr Polski, Warsaw, Poland: hb/nonpictorial]
- Too True to be Good: A Political Extravaganza [first performed 29 February 1932 Boston, Massachusetts]
- On the Rocks: A Political Comedy [first performed 25 November 1933 Winter Garden Theatre, London]
- The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles: A Vision of Judgment [first performed 18 February 1935 Guild Theatre, New York]
- The Millionairess [first performed 4 January 1936 Akademie Theatre, Vienna]
- Geneva: A Fancied Page of History (London: Constable and Company, 1939) [play: first performed 25 July 1938 Warsaw, Poland: revised text first performed 1 August 1938, Festival Theatre, Malvern, Worcestershire: illus/hb/Feliks Topolski]
- The Buoyant Billions: An Intentionally Unfinished Comedy (Edinburgh, Scotland: R and R Clark for the author, 1947) [play: hb/]
- The Collected Screenplays of Bernard Shaw (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1980) [screenplays: coll: edited by Bernard F Dukore: contains scripts for Arms and the Man and others: hb/]
individual titles (highly selected)
about the author
Studies of Shaw are very numerous. A tiny sample is given here.
- G K Chesterton. George Bernard Shaw (London: John Lane, the Bodley Head, 1910) [nonfiction: hb/]
- G K Chesterton. Do We Agree? (London: Cecil Palmer, 1928) with George Bernard Shaw and (chairing debate) Hilaire Belloc [nonfiction: chap: hb/]
- Frank Harris. Bernard Shaw: An Unauthorized Biography Based on First Hand Information With a Postscript by Mr Shaw (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1931) [nonfiction: hb/nonpictorial]
- J Percy Smith, editor. Bernard Shaw and H G Wells (Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1995) [nonfiction: anth: in the publisher's Selected Correspondence of Bernard Shaw series: hb/Wesley W Bates]
- Milton T Wolf, editor. Shaw and Science Fiction (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997) [nonfiction: anth: follows "scholarly" practice and ignores textual issues, including Shaw's numerous revisions acknowledged or silent: hb/]
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