Record

CodeNA6656
Dates1856-1950
Person NameShaw; George Bernard (1856-1950); dramatist
SurnameShaw
ForenamesGeorge Bernard
Epithetdramatist
ActivityGeorge Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), dramatist, was born in Dublin, the son of George Carr Shaw, who held a sinecure in the Dublin Law Courts until it was abolished in 1850. His father received a pension of £60 per year which was invested in the firm of Cibborn and Shaw, a corn-mill in Dublin, which maintained the family for the rest of his life. George Bernard Shaw's mother was Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly, who married his thirty-eight year old father when she was twenty-one, to get away from the aunt that she lived with. They had two daughters before the arrival of George. His father's drinking alienated them from their family and social circle. George's mother had an exceptional singing voice and it was through her and her association with musicians that Shaw gained his musical education. His formal education was however less than satisfactory, but Shaw made up for it with his private reading and study in the National Gallery of Ireland. In 1866 the family's circumstances changed for the better when they joined forces with Mrs Shaw's friend, George John Vandaleur Lee, the leader of an orchestra in Dublin, to share a larger house in a better street. He also owned a house at Dalkey, Killiney Bay where they stayed in the summer. A few years later however, Lee decided to move to London and in 1872, Mrs Shaw decided to follow him there with her two daughters, the eldest of whom hoped to be a professional singer.

George, who had become a junior clerk in an estate agency in 1871, and his father remained in Ireland in lodgings. When he was sixteen Shaw was promoted to cashier. In 1875 his first letter was published in 'Public Opinion'. In 1876 Shaw's younger sister died of consumption and he decided to join his mother and sister in London. For the next nine years he made his living with various jobs, in between which he wrote novels. He suffered from smallpox in 1881. In 1877 he received an inheritance from his maternal great-grandfather which helped him support the family. Between 1878-1883 he wrote five novels which at the time were not accepted for publication. Indeed 'Immaturity' was not published for fifty years. During this period Shaw honed his skills as an orator. Between 1885 and 1926, Shaw wrote thirty-six plays and many articles, etc. He joined the Fabian Society in 1884 and from 1885-1888 he reviewed books for the 'Pall Mall Gazette', and from 1886-1889 was art critic for the 'World'. From 1888 to 1890 Shaw was the music critic for the 'Star' under the pen-name Corno di Bassetto, and from 1890 he was the music critic of the 'World'. In 1892 Shaw's first play, 'Widowers' Houses', was performed at the Royalty Theatre. In 1893, he wrote 'The Philanderer' which is considered his worst play and it was followed by 'Mrs Warren's Profession', which was banned until 1925. Shaw's early works were not performed for a long time and it seemed that he would be a failure as a dramatist as well as as an author.

From 1897-1902 Shaw was a vestryman and later borough councillor for St Pancras, London. In 1898 he was unwell and whilst staying with the Webbs met Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, who was horrified at the discomfort that he lived in at his mothers house and proposed to remove him to a house in the country. He, fearing that her reputation would be tarnished, insisted that they marry. They were both forty-one. From the turn of the century Shaw gradually began to be successful as a playwright. However, his popularity was lost at the outbreak of the First World War, which only returned when the war was over. By 1924, Shaw was the world's most famous living dramatist and whilst declining other honours, he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1925 and used the prize money to establish the Anglo-Swedish Literary Foundation. Although always continuing to write prolifically, much of Shaw's time was spent travelling with his wife. However in 1938 he suffered from pernicious anemia, presumably brought on by his vegetarian diet. This was followed by the long painful illness of his wife which culminated in her death in 1943. In 1946, when Shaw was ninety, he was made a freeman of Dublin and the first honorary freeman of St Pancras, London. Following a fall in 1950, when he broke his thigh, he later died at home. His house at Ayot was left to the National Trust. Shaws publications include: 'London Music in 1888-89' (1937); 'The Quintessence of Ibsenism' (1891); 'The Common Sense of Municipal Trading' (1904).
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