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George Bernard Shaw’s place in Literature

G. B. Shaw’s place in Literature


George Bernard Shaw was a man of many qualities. He was not only a dramatist but also a pamphleteer, critic, political thinker, orator and philosopher, and an inspired jester. During his active literary life of about 70 years he took part in the work of the Fabian Society, reviewed books, wrote controversial pamphlets, served as art critic, popularised Ibsen, won the Nobel Prize for literature, went on a round the world tour, collected a huge amount of wealth, and was the most talked of person of his age.

Shaw the Man

Shaw was born in Dublin on July 26, 1856. He was the son of George Carr and Lucinda Elizabeth. His early home was not a happy one. In it, Shaw learned three things: a hatred of snobbishness, a dislike of Irish Protestantism and, from his mother, a love and knowledge of music. Shaw was himself a paradox. He described himself as “inimitable, impossible, and undesirable on any scale”

Shaw As an Orator

After coming in contact with Sydney Webb Shaw became an orator and was soon a master of the platform. Over a period of twelve years, from 1883 to 1895, he spoke anywhere and everywhere. He became a socialist after meeting the author of Progress and Poverty, Henry George in 1882. Within the next two years he had absorbed Karl Marx’s Das Capital and joined the Fabian Society. He developed into the most famous Fabian of his time until he resigned from the society in 1911.

Shaw As a Critic

Shaw also wrote as a critic of art, literature, music and drama for several magazines. For four years till 1894, he wrote for The World on the role of music in everyday life. In 1898 he criticised Shakespeare in Saturday Review. His Dramatic opinions and Essays, Published in 1907, won him great fame as a dramatic critic. His powers of criticism were also expressed through the Quintessence of Ibsenism, The Sanity of Art, and The Perfect Wagnerite.

Shaw As a Politician

Shaw for some time also turned towards politics. For some time he was a confused socialist. Shaw, Webb and Oliver were popularly known as the ‘Fabian as the ‘Fabian Three Musketeers’ In 1897, Shaw became councilor of the Borough Council, and for six years he devoted himself to municipal work.

As a political thinker, Shaw aroused keen controversies and became internationally well known for opposing the British Government in his pamphlets, Common Sense about the War.

Shaw As a Dramatist

It is not as a novelist or a pamphleteer or a political or social thinker but rather as a dramatist that he will be remembered and regarded in the future. He has an impressive list of plays. Staring from Widowers’ Houses (1892), we have a long succession The Philanderer, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Arms and the Man, Candida, The Man of Destiny, You Never Can Tell, The Devil’s Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, Man and Superman, Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma Pygmalion, Back to Methuselah, Saint Joan, The Apple Cart, In Good King Charles Days, Buoyant Billions and several others.

These plays have plenty of wit and wealth of thought. There is brilliant dialogue and some characterisation. But there is also an underlying philosophy.

Shaw As a Philosopher

Shaw’s genius as a philosopher was revealed in the Man and Superman and Back to Methuselah. In his Philosophy there are two fundamental realities: matter and life force. It gives Shaw a religion as he is prepared to call the life- force, God. It gives him a basis for his ethics, and so colours his whole outlook. It identifies his will with the life force. It justifies his belief in the Superman by showing that this ever- advancing power must go on to a still higher level.


Shaw in his long life saw many changes in the world. He was an eye-witness to the laying of the first Atlantic cable, the opening of the Suez Canal, Edison’s Telephone Victoria’s two jubilees, the discovery of the North Pole the two World Wars, the birth of the Republic of India. He also actively participated in many movements of importance and said thing that made a difference. For his great contribution to literature, in 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He donated the prize money to the Anglo- Swedish Foundation Society. This great man was snatched away from us on 2nd November, 1950.

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