English Literature
George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Life and Legacy of George Bernard Shaw: A Prominent Irish Writer and Activist

George Bernard Shaw was a renowned Irish writer and activist known for his contributions to literature and theatre. Despite a difficult childhood in an impoverished aristocratic family, Shaw emerged as a well-respected figure and a passionate advocate for various causes. Let's take a closer look at the life of this influential figure.

A Challenging Childhood

Born in Dublin to a family with English, Scottish, and Irish roots, Shaw's financial fortunes suffered due to mismanagement and alcoholism. He grew up in an unloving household, with his parents' marriage based on financial convenience and his mother showing little interest in him, focusing more on her daughters.

However, Shaw's mother did introduce him to the world of art, literature, and music, thanks to her music teacher George Lee, who she followed to London. Lee, who was also an inspiration for the character Svengali in the novel Trilby, had a strong influence on Shaw and lived near his childhood home. Some even theorized that Lee was Shaw's father, which was supported by his wife Beatrice Webb.

An Unconventional Education

Aside from his mother's influence, Shaw was also educated by his uncle, a cleric. But at the age of just 16, he rejected traditional schooling and started working for a land agent. In his early 20s, Shaw followed his mother to London in 1876, where he struggled to make a living as a writer. He continued to educate himself by extensively using the British Museum's reading room, often requesting over 300 books per year.

The Birth of a Socialist

Living in London also had a significant impact on Shaw's political beliefs, and he eventually became a socialist. He strongly believed that the city needed a change in attitude to create a better world. In his own words, "Such wasteful methods, it is safe to predict, will never be altered until London belongs to, and is governed by, the people who use it."

A Playwright's Journey

Although Shaw attempted to write novels, he faced rejection and little success during the 1880s. His works were deemed "immoral" or "disagreeable" and "unconventional" by publishers. But he did not give up, and alongside his serialized book Love Among the Artists, he wrote five other novels, including Cashel Byron's Profession and An Unsocial Socialist. It wasn't until 1895, when Shaw started writing for the Saturday Review as a theatre critic, that he found his true calling on the stage.

Shaw was dissatisfied with the state of English drama, which he saw as absurd and trapped in a cycle of artificial melodrama and farce. To change this, he advocated for more works by realist writers like Henrik Ibsen.

  • Melodrama: a type of fiction that uses exaggerated characters and sensational events to evoke strong emotions in the audience or readers.
  • Farce: a type of drama that entertains through comical situations and exaggerated characters.

A Health-Conscious Activist

Shaw's beliefs extended beyond politics and theatre, as he was also very particular about his diet, abstaining from alcohol, coffee, and tea. Despite his challenging upbringing, Shaw emerged as a respected literary figure and a committed advocate for social change.

The Life and Legacy of George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw was a renowned playwright and activist, known for his sharp wit and social commentary. His works challenged societal norms and advocated for various causes such as socialism, women's rights, and vegetarianism.

Early Career

Born in 1856, Shaw's first play, Widowers' Houses, received a lukewarm response. Despite facing censorship with his plays Mrs Warren's Profession and John Bull's Other Island, Shaw's wit and social criticism shone through, solidifying his reputation with later plays such as Arms and the Man, The Devil's Disciple, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Unique Style and Perspective

Shaw's plays were characterized by their conversational style and use of comedy to challenge societal norms and beliefs. He believed in the power of words over violence and used his platform to promote social justice and equality. Despite writing mostly comedies, Saint Joan stands out as his only tragedy, showcasing Shaw's versatility as a playwright.

Shaw's Personal Life

In 1896, Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townshend, but their marriage was seen as a companionship. Shaw formed strong emotional ties with other women, mostly actresses. However, their marriage lasted until Charlotte's death in 1945.

Pygmalion and Nobel Prize

In 1913, Shaw's play Pygmalion premiered and gained widespread acclaim. This play, based on the ancient Greek legend, tells the story of a London flower girl who transforms into a "New Woman" and challenges the male-dominated society. In 1925, Shaw received the Nobel Prize for Literature, solidifying his status as a notable playwright.

Continued Impact and Legacy

Shaw continued to write plays until his death at the age of 94, using his platform to advocate for various causes. His works remain a significant part of both the stage and social commentary, inspiring generations to come.

Key Takeaways

George Bernard Shaw was a remarkable and influential figure, using his talents to challenge societal norms and promote social justice. Known for his conversational style and sharp wit, Shaw's legacy lives on through his thought-provoking works that continue to resonate with audiences all over the world.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime