Monday, May 4, 2015


Because of that funny thing we sometimes call "coincidence," one of my latest posts triggered a message by Bernard F. Dukore. In it, he remembers having asked Dan H. Laurence about the proposal Isadora Duncan allegedly (most likely, apocryphally) made to Shaw. Laurence, instead of providing a straight answer, used another Shaw quotation regarding how few of the quotations attributed to him were actually true. Bernard (Dukore) wants to know if (and where) Shaw said such a thing - he laughed at the witty response, but forgot to ask for the source. The answer is - should we say synergically - linked to the rumours about whether Isadora Duncan was the mystery lady who had approached Shaw with breeding intentions. 

Apparently, two different European newspapers (Corriere della Sera and Sächsisches Volksblatt) had described slightly different versions of the same conversation between Shaw and an unknown lady (Sächsisches Volksblatt) or Isadora Duncan (Corriere della Sera). Given that the Italian newspaper had published the earlier article, Max Hayek had been accused of plagiarism in his German version of the anecdote. Shaw was asked to clear the case, and this is the letter he wrote, reproduced in Dan H. Laurence's Bernard Shaw Collected Letters: 1926-1950 (pages 16-17): 

Dear Sir

        You ask me to clear up the case of Herr Max's story Das Kind and the paragraph in the Corriere della Sera [...] Clearly the Bernard Shaw story is the plagiarism, and Das Kind the original. [...]
      But Herr Max must not blame me. No beautiful American dancer has ever proposed marriage to me, on eugenic or any other grounds. The Italian journalist invented the dancer and her proposal; stole the witty reply from Herr Max; and chose me for the hero of his tale because newspapers always buy stories about me. 99% of these stories are flat falsehoods. 1/2% are half true. The remaining 1/2% are true, but spoilt in the telling.

As we all know, it is difficult to believe everything people say Shaw said and wrote. We did not know Shaw would agree with us. 

In this case in particular, although Shaw denies either version of the story, it is worth reminding readers that Hesketh Pearson quotes a generic version of this story as having occurred (Bernard Shaw: His Life and Personality, pages 310-311). In addition, Shaw admitted to having "made that reply" - though not to Isadora Duncan - in an interview included in Sewell Stokes's Hear the Lions Roar (p. 37).

As Chico Marx would put it - in the famous scene in Duck Soup when he impersonates Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho): 
"Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?