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.