Saturday, December 19, 2015


Because this is not really a quotation, I am going to be brief. 

The other day I was searching for the latest publications on Bernard Shaw - I use Google Books and Google Scholar for that, among other repositories - when the title of one of the books that made reference to Shaw caught my eye. It was Ancient Rome and the Construction of Modern Homosexual Identities

It took me a while to find the two references to "Bernard Shaw" in the book, and it took me a while more to understand what was going on. 

It turns out that in Chapter 8 ("Petronius' Satyrica and Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar"), the author (Nikolai Endres) discusses the depiction of homosexual relationships between a young boy and an older man. When he describes the case of Jim in The City and the Pillar, he mistakes the name of the actor he has an affair with in the novel (Ronald Shaw) for that of Bernard Shaw. Thus, a rather unexpected paragraph follows, reproduced here: 

Although it is simply a small typographical error that does not subtract from the quality of the chapter, let this be a warning to all my readers about the perils of the internet. And also a token of the type of chaff that the editor of the Continuing Checklist of Shaviana has to separate from the wheat. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


A few days ago, ISS President Michael O'Hara brought to my attention an article in The New York Times with an unlikely connection between Star Wars and Shaw

The article in question describes the natural beauty of one of Ireland's "most mystical places," Skellig Michael (Sceilg Mhichíl). The article also describes a recent visit to the site by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy. Both Hamill and the author (Lucinda Hahn) seem to have fallen in love with the place and, to add another preacher to the choir, Hahn quotes Shaw's description of Skellig Michael: 

No wonder George Bernard Shaw, following a visit in 1910, described Skellig Michael this way: “I hardly feel real again … I tell you, the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: It is part of our dream world.”

Of course, nobody ever thinks of poor people who cannot sleep a wink if they cannot source their Shaw quotations - and alas, no source is provided. Luckily for me, it didn't take long to find the source.  

The fragments Hahn quotes belong to a letter Shaw sent to Frederick Jackson (18th Sept., 1910). The letter has been published in Dan H. Laurence's edited collection of Shaw's correspondence (Collected Letters, 1898-1910, p. 941-943). 

However, the article in the NY Times fails to mention that the two excerpts they quote appear in reverse order in Shaw's letter, and that they are also separated by quite a few lines. 

For those of you who may not have a copy of Laurence's Collected Letters at hand, I am glad to inform you that Kay Li (the leader of the Shaw-Sagittarius project, one of the Sagittarius Literature Digitizing Projects) has shared with us an online version of the letter, which you can read in its entirety. The text is an exact copy of the original letter as published. 

Apart from the beauty of the place, the words "dream world" have certainly drawn the attention of many Shaw critics who have chosen this letter to illustrate their appraisal of, for example, Shaw's views about Ireland. Let us look at some of them, in no particular order. 

Sally Peters, in her Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman (p. 27-28), reminds us that Shaw was visiting his homeland and felt "besieged by a strong sense of his own mortality." Peters also finds reminiscences of "the hold of this fantastic rock on Shaw's imagination" in the "strange outcroppings that surface in the settings for Too True to Be Good (1931) and The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1934)."

Michael Holroyd's Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition also delves on the emotional dimension of this excursion, which probably brought back fond memories of childhood days for Shaw. In Holroyd's words (p. 364)

"Upon this cathedral of the sea, the man who generally seemed a stranger on the planet felt at home. Standing in the graveyards at the Skellig summit, he recalled the summers of his early years when Sonny roamed over the rocks and goat-paths of Dalkey, and gazed across the blue waters to Howth Head; or had lain on the grassy top of the hill above the bay - then raced down to the shore known as White Rock and plunged into the waves. Sonny had been a product of Dalkey’s outlook: there was little place for him in the bustling world where G.B.S. moved. But he breathed again in the magic climate of this island." 

A. M. Gibbs's A Bernard Shaw Chronology does not provide us with any critical commentary, but reminds us that the famous rowboat trip was only a consequence of having "failed to reach them [the Skelligs] by yatch on the 16th." In addition, in Bernard Shaw: A Life (by the same author) reference is made to an earlier letter addressed to Mabel Fitzgerald, wife of the Sinn Féin MP Desmond Fitzgerald. In it, Shaw remarks (p. 250-251) that "the magic of Ireland is very strong for me when I see a beehive dwelling. Did you ever make the pilgrimage to Skellig Michael? If not, you have not yet seen Ireland." A few lines later, Gibbs quotes the letter to Frederick Jackson (apparently still quoted in tourist information), and argues that "this 'dream world' of ancient religious traditions and haunting beauty was an essential component in the multifaceted Shavian image of lreland."

I must agree with Gibbs. After all, we learn from Shaw himself that "an Irishman's heart is nothing but his imagination" - or his dreams.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


This morning I was idling browsing Youtube for videos that may be relevant to any of the playlists in the GBS Youtube Channel (subscribe, pretty please!). After a few minutes I came across a short documentary video about Hearst Castle, the mansion built by William Randolph Hearst. In the description, it is said that Shaw deemed this stately house "the place God would have built if he had the money." 

The video had been uploaded by the Smithsonian Institution to their Official Youtube Channel, so I had every reason to believe that the quotation was legitimate. But, alas, no source was provided. 

After searching my database for a few minutes, I found that the quotation had indeed been pronounced by Shaw during the few days they (he and Charlotte) were guests of Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies (24th to 27th March, 1933). In the editorial material preceding a letter Shaw wrote to Hearst (in fact, an inscription in Hearst's copy of What I Really Wrote About the War), Dan H. Laurence writes that Shaw, when asked by a fellow guest what he thought about the building, replied: "This is the way God would have built it, if He'd had the money." We are told that Shaw spent those days "luxuriating in the indoor and outdoor swimming pools and enjoying his proximity to the exotic animals and birds with which the ranch was stocked." In addition, they were "surrounded by a bevy of Hollywood starlets and intimate friends of Davies" (See Collected Letters Vol. IV, 1926-1950, p. 332-333). 

Laurence, in turn, provides Walter Wagner's You Must Remember This (New York: Putnam, 1975) as his source. Sure enough, the quotation and the accompanying anecdote are mentioned on page 85. 
However, other sources do not attribute the quotation to Shaw, or at least attribute the same words to a different person. Specifically, Howard Teichmann's George S. Kaufman: An Intimate Portrait (New York: Atheneum, 1972), quotes the American critic on page 127 as having said "This is what God could have done if He'd had the money." Kaufmann's words, however, do not express his awe at Hearst's castle-like mansion, but rather at the 2,000 pine trees that Moss Hart had transplanted to the once-barren land he owned in Bucks County, Pa. The same story is reported in a 1977 issue of People Weekly (7 Feb. 1977, p. 32)

For good measure, however, the above attribution is, in turn, considered apocryphal by a letter to the same magazine (published three weeks later, on Feb. 28). The letter, signed by David A. France from New Hope, Pa., claims that it was "AlexanderWoollcott who, after inspecting the [Hart's] gardens and "the Gertrude Lawrence Memorial Wing" snapped, "It's exactly what God would have done—if He'd had the money."" The letter provides no source for this, although the editor's reply to the letter concedes that the author of the article (Kitty Carlisle Hart, Moss's wife) "had always associated the quote about God with Kaufmann," "but it may well have been Alec. It sounds like Alec." 

Once again, an alleged Shaw quotation has to be quarantined until a definitive source surfaces. Whatever the case may be, the time the Shaws spent at Hearst's is worth recording as one of their most remarkable international visits. GeoShaw material, in other words.

Monday, November 23, 2015


During the wonderful Shaw in NYC Conferece that was so successfully organized, and thoroughly enjoyed by many of us last October, my friend Jean Reynolds gave me a few Shaw books she had extra copies of so that I could enlarge my personal library. This is something she has been doing for a while now, and I cannot thank her enough for it. I normally try to return the favour by sending her a digitized copy of whatever books she gives me - a deal any of you can get, by the way. 

This time, one of the books I got is a relatively well-preserved copy of The Quintessence of G.B.S., edited by Stephen Winsten (1949)

This book is a lode of invaluable information for quotation hunters like me, as it is basically a compendium of Shaw quotations with their corresponding source. As luck would have it, I turned one of the pages and I found an old scrap of paper that had been probably used as a page marker for a long time. 

When I took it out of the book in order to scan that particular page, my eye was caught by what seemed a rather unusual choice of words for Shaw:

Another foreign language - that of Amurrica. 

Winsten tells us that this phrase is taken from Our Theatres in the Nineties, one of the collections of Shaw's dramatic criticism. Although I was ready to take Winsten's word for it, I wanted to see the quotation in its larger context, so I decided to locate it. The problem was that the editor had forgotten to say in which of the three volumes of Our Theatres in the Nineties this exact quotation is to be found. As many of you know, this collection of critical essays consists of three volumes containing the articles Shaw contributed weekly to The Saturday Review from January 1895 to May 1898 - in other words, a little over 150 articles, or more than 800 pages of text.  

A quick search in my database (technology really is something!) returns the exact occurrence of the above quotation on page 163 of Volume I, in an article that critiqued one of Augustin Daly's productions. The article in question was entitled "Mr Daly Fossilizes" (29 June 1895), and was written on occasion of the staging  of The Railroad of Love at Daly's Theatre, a comedy in four acts adapted by Mr. Daly from a German play called Goldfische, by Franz von Schönthan and Gustav Kadelburg. 

The excerpt on the alleged foreign language of "Amurrica" is the opening sentence of the article, and it introduces Shaw's argument that Daly's adaptation was already completely outmoded and superseded in London's West End at this point. In Shaw's own words: 

"I wonder how far Mr Daly realizes how completely that state of things has gone by. When Mr Charrington produced Ibsen's Doll's House at the Royalty in 1889, he smashed up the British drama of the eighties. Not that the public liked Ibsen: he was infinitely too good for that. But the practical business point is not how people liked Ibsen, but how they liked Byron, Sardou, and Tom Taylor after lbsen. And that is the point that our managers miss."

By the way, those of you who may not have a copy of Our Theatres in the Nineties handy can also read this article in The Drama Observed (Vol. II, pp. 378-383), edited by Bernard F. Dukore

Once the point in question has been sufficiently clarified, there are at least a couple of things worth commenting on. The first one is that, to be frank, given Shaw's interest in music, phonetics, and speech, I was expecting this quotation to be related to American accents on stage or someting of that nature. 

Also, it gives one a different perspective on what we consider contemporary jargon. The Internet is plagued with pseudo-comic memes satirizing - commonly through exaggeration - any aspect of the American stereotype. These usually label the resulting portrait "Murica."

Well, contrary to what I initially believed, but very much in line with what Shaw represents, he was ahead of his time in this also. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Below is a list of the addresses and locales that have been included in our GeoShaw Map thus far. Each address is linked to a picture of the site as it stands today. All the pictures have been taken and generously donated by Evelyn Ellis and her collaborators.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


A few days ago, someone posted a question on the ISS Facebook page wondering if Bernard Shaw ever "praised Islam or Mohamed in any of his books or statements." It is no wonder someone should ask such a question, because the issue is all over the Internet. Admittedly, very few of these claims are based on known sources or sound research, as some have noted. 

At any rate, there is no gainsaying the fact that Shaw's opinions on Islam are certainly of interest to many, given that I have found more than 450 mentions of words like "Islam," "Mohammed," Mahometan," and "Muslim" - in their various forms and spellings - in Shaw's works and, more importantly, in the pieces of criticism in my database.  I will try to bring to light as much material as I possibly can, and I am sure my intelligent readers will be able to draw their own conclusions. 

Well, where do I begin? Perhaps the plays are a safe choice (there will be another entry devoted to his non-dramatic texts exclusively). Generally speaking, Shaw does not go beyond a few scattered cultural commonplaces in the text of his plays, albeit with a pinch of Shavian humor on occasion. The most trite include the phraseological "If the mountain will not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must come to the mountain" (The Doctor's Dilemma) and the merely descriptive, like the Egyptian doctor in The Millionairess, who is "what you call a Mahometan" and keeps "a clinic for penniless Mahometan refugees." 

More often than not, however, there is a conventional component in the references to muslims and their religious practices. Thus, in the first act of Captain Brassbound's Conversion, which takes place in "Mogador, a seaport on the west coast of Morocco," we are reminded that "Mahometans never spend money in drink." Likewise, in Man and Superman Jack Tanner urges Straker to take him to "any port from which we can sail to a Mahometan country where men are protected from women" - but not viceversa, I may add. In this play, like in the rest - as we shall see - most references to Islam are intertwined with other creeds, amidst a general sense of religious relativism, at least as regards the established religions Shaw was acquainted with. Fittingly, it is in the "Don Juan in Hell Scene" that we find this type of discussion: 

DON JUAN. That is perhaps why battles are so useless. But men never really overcome fear until they imagine they are fighting to further a universal purpose—fighting for an idea, as they call it. Why was the Crusader braver than the pirate? Because he fought, not for himself, but for the Cross. What force was it that met him with a valor as reckless as his own? The force of men who fought, not for themselves, but for Islam. They took Spain from us, though we were fighting for our very hearths and homes; but when we, too, fought for that mighty idea, a Catholic Church, we swept them back to Africa.
THE DEVIL. [ironically] What! you a Catholic, Senor Don Juan! A devotee! My congratulations.
THE STATUE. [seriously] Come come! as a soldier, I can listen to nothing against the Church.
DON JUAN. Have no fear, Commander: this idea of a Catholic Church will survive Islam, will survive the Cross, will survive even that vulgar pageant of incompetent schoolboyish gladiators which you call the Army.
THE STATUE. Juan: you will force me to call you to account for this.
DON JUAN. Useless: I cannot fence. Every idea for which Man will die will be a Catholic idea. When the Spaniard learns at last that he is no better than the Saracen, and his prophet no better than Mahomet, he will arise, more Catholic than ever, and die on a barricade across the filthy slum he starves in, for universal liberty and equality.

Similarly, in Major Barbara, Undershaft expresses an equally relativistic idea about faith with special reference to Islam when he claims that "It is cheap work converting starving men with a Bible in one hand and a slice of bread in the other. I will undertake to convert West Ham to Mahometanism on the same terms."

In addition, the social, political, and cultural nature of religion allows for hilarious scenes with a running thread of earnestness "in the womb of time." Take, for instance, the different takes on marriage that three different religions (including Islam) have, as discussed in The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles

HYERING. Anything fresh from London or Delhi?
SIR CHARLES. The same old songs. The Church of England wont tolerate polygamy on any terms, and insists on our prosecuting Iddy if we cannot whitewash him. Delhi declares that any attempt to persecute polygamy would be an insult to the religions of India.
PRA. The Cultural Minister at Delhi adds a postscript to say that as he has been married two hundred and thirtyfour times, and could not have lived on his salary without the dowries, the protest of the Church of England shews a great want of consideration for his position. He has a hundred and seventeen children surviving.
SIR CHARLES. Then there's a chap I never heard of, calling himself the Caliph of British Islam. He demands that Iddy shall put away all his wives except four.
HYERING. What does the Foreign Office say to that?
PRA. The Foreign Office hails it as a happy solution of a difficulty that threatened to be very serious.

There exists, however, a very peculiar element shared by a few of Shaw's plays that is worth commenting on. On two different occasions, characters of Shaw's plays foresee (or live in) a world in which Mohammedanism is the dominant religion. So, for example, Hotchkiss (Getting Married) remarks that 

HOTCHKISS. [...] I happen, like Napoleon, to prefer Mohammedanism. [Mrs George, associating   Mohammedanism with polygamy, looks at him with quick suspicion]. I believe the whole British Empire will adopt a reformed Mohammedanism before the end of the century. The character of Mahomet is congenial to me. I admire him, and share his views of life to a considerable extent.

Although Hotchkiss's speech ends with the explicit acknowledgement of "the quintessential equality of all the religions," it is also true that this idea of Islam as the official religion of the world remained in Shaw's dramatic arsenal for decades. So, for instance, part IV of Back to Methuselah (Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman) depicts a futuristic world where the long-lived want to destroy the British Commonwealth (Capital City: Baghdad) before its short-lived inhabitants destroy themselves. The British Envoy is shocked to learn that "the old uns prefer Mahometans." As the Elderly Gentleman explains: 

THE ELDERLY GENTLEMAN [...] There can be no doubt, I am afraid, that by clinging too long to the obsolete features of the old pseudo-Christian Churches we allowed the Mahometans to get ahead of us at a very critical period of the development of the Eastern world. When the Mahometan Reformation took place, it left its followers with the enormous advantage of having the only established religion in the world in whose articles of faith any intelligent and educated person could believe.

If I may interrupt my train of thought for a second, reading Shaw makes many of the so-called "enfants terribles" of literature appear outmoded and conventional - I don't know what the hype is about. 

At any rate, I personally believe that Shaw tries to provoke his audiences when he portrays a muslim future, especially as a counterpoint to the prevailing religious (not exclusively religious) bigotry of his time - an issue that also pervades some of his plays, hence the following exchange from On the Rocks

SIR ARTHUR. [...] The Archbishop says "Avoid figures; and stick to the fact that Socialism would break up the family." I believe he is right: a bit of sentiment about the family always goes down well. Just jot this down for me. [Dictating] Family. Foundation of civilization.  Foundation of the empire. 
HILDA.  Will there be any Hindus or Mahometans present? 
SIR ARTHUR. No. No polygamists at the Church House. Besides, everybody knows that The Family means the British family.

Ryding, Anna-Lisa som Sankta Johanna 1926 (ur Henning 1950)

Needless to say, there is a play where the religious element is so strong and the tone so serious that any reference to Islam should be considered carefully. I am talking, as you have rightly guesssed, about Saint Joan. Towards the end of Scene IV, there is a lively discussion between Cauchon and Warwick that involves several references to the muslims in the Middle Ages. Shaw's natural tendency to anachronism in his historical plays, and his habit of comparing even the most remote places and eras to the British Isles of his own lifetime, would lead anyone to believe that there is a bit of twentieth-century philosophy in what follows. In fact, as we shall see, practically all the notions that have been discussed hitherto can be found in this scene. 

To begin with, Cauchon, the man of the Church, certifies Joan's heresy on the grounds that she does not use the Church as the rightful interlocutor in her conversations with God. 

CAUCHON. [...] She sends letters to the king of England giving him God's command through her to return to his island on pain of God's vengeance, which she will execute. Let me tell you that the writing of such letters was the practice of the accursed Mahomet, the anti-Christ. Has she ever in all her utterances said one word of The Church? Never. It is always God and herself.

The idea that Mahometanism may one day be successful because it has a philosophy/creed but not a caste of clergymen seems to be turned on its head here for dramatic purposes, but it remains basically unaltered. 

Warwick, the seasoned soldier who has travelled the world, embodies the idea of religious relativism that has previously been discussed. 

WARWICK. I am a soldier, not a churchman. As a pilgrim I saw something of the Mahometans. They were not so ill-bred as I had been led to believe. In some respects their conduct compared favorably with ours.

After these words, when Cauchon reprimands him for his lack of theological knowledge and the boldness of his statement, Warwick once again stands his ground and addresses the question of religious bigotry as the basis for religious conflict - be it the Crusades or any of their present-day counterparts, I guess. 

WARWICK. [...] I am sorry you think I must be either a heretic or a blockhead because, as a travelled man, I know that the followers of Mahomet profess great respect for our Lord, and are more ready to forgive St Peter for being a fisherman than your lordship is to forgive Mahomet for being a camel driver. But at least we can proceed in this matter without bigotry.

After all, in Warwick's own words, Christendom and Islam "are only east and west views of the same thing."

If we forget for a moment about the abstract - and sometimes abstruse - concept of religion, Shaw also makes some personal comments about the figure of the prophet Mohammed (Mahomet). Although most of the juicy bits about him belong in the second part of this post, I think it is fair to end this one with the comments included in Buoyant Billions, especially because they frame Shaw's vision of Mohammed. First of all, this play lists the prophet of Islam as one of the "World Betterers" the world has known, with some illustrious company: 

SON. No: you have always been a model father. But the profession I contemplate is not one that a model father could recommend to his son. 
FATHER. And what profession is that, pray?
SON. One that is always unsuccessful. Marx's profession. Lenin's profession. Stalin's profession. Ruskin's profession. Plato's profession. Confucius, Gautama, Jesus, Mahomet, Luther, William Morris. The profession of world betterer.

Despite this, we have to take Mahomet as a "righteous man" who perhaps had no other choice but to do what he did: 

SON. Yes; and when they find them why do they run after them? Only to crucify them. The righteous man takes his life in his hand whenever he utters the truth. Charlemagne, Mahomet, St Dominic: these were righteous men according to their lights; but with Charlemagne it was embrace Christianity instantly or die; with Mahomet the slaying of the infidel was a passport to Heaven; with Dominic and his Dogs of God it was Recant or burn.

Finally, in a brilliant flash of Shavian wit, we cannot possibly forget that Mahomet's wisdom may have something very earthly about it.

THE WIDOWER. Oh, she is not dead: I let her divorce me. We are now quite good friends again. But to understand this question it is not enough to have been married once. Henry the Eighth would be the leading authority if he were alive. The prophet Mahomet was married more than fourteen times.

In this blog entry, the first of a series of posts on "Shaw and Islam," I have tried to illustrate how this religion and its symbols are portrayed in Shaw's plays. Because of the filter of literary language and dramatic technique, one cannot take the above excerpts as representing Shaw's personal opinions - at least not faithfully. However, they provide a background against which I hope the next set of fragments (from prefaces, letters, speeches, and interviews) will stand out. Let us hope we can shed some light on the subject and leave unsourced voices to the sphere of mysticism.