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