Biography of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland. His mother eventually left his father, who was an unsuccessful merchant, to teach singing lessons in London. At the age of twenty, Shaw left Dublin for London, where he wrote five novels. From an early age, Shaw identified himself as a socialist and joined the Fabian Society, which was a non-revolutionary Marxist group advocating for a kind of social reform that would result in socialism without bloodshed. He was an extremely prolific writer who completed over fifty plays before his death of natural causes at the age of 94.
Shaw began writing rather late in life, begining with articles for a Fabian Society publication called Fabian Letters (1889). He wrote five novels, but he earned a living as a music and theater critic, advocating strongly for the music of Richard Wagner. Shaw originally tried his hand at writing plays to flesh out his criticisms of the existing British stage. Compared to the light Victorian comedies which were the fashion, Shaw's plays were revolutionary in their seriousness and socialist themes.
His earliest plays were published in a set titled Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898). The Pleasant volume includes Arms and the Man (1894), Candida (1893), and You Never Can Tell (1895). The Unpleasant volume includes Widower's Houses (1892), The Philanderer (1893), and Mrs. Warren's Profession (1893). The latter play describes the mother/daughter relationship between a prostitute and her exacting daughter, and it was banned in London for its "immorality."
Shaw was a vegetarian and a teetotaler, and he was well known for his large ego. In 1898, Shaw married an Irish heiress who famously insisted on maintaining celibacy even after marriage. In 1901 he published Three Plays for Puritans, a set which included The Devil's Disciple, a play about the American Revolution.
Of his later plays, Shaw is best remembered for his Saint Joan (1923) and John Bull's Other Island (1904). Written four years after Joan of Arc was recognized as a saint, Saint Joan portrays the Frenchwoman as a stubborn piece of work who was ahead of her time. John Bull's Other Island is a comedy about Ireland that was originally commissioned by W. B. Yeats for the opening of the National Theatre in Ireland but which he later rejected for being too controversial.