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Life History of George Bernard Shaw

Life History of G. B. Shaw


George Bernard Shaw, the greatest playwright since Shakespeare, achieved name and fame in his life. He was one of the last of eminent Victorians. During his long life, by writings and sharp comments Shaw did much to alert the thinking of mankind. He broke down many of the useless traditions of the 19th century

Birth and Parents

Shaw was born in Dublin on July 26, 1856. He was the third child and only son of George Carr Shaw civil servant, later a wholesale corn dealer, and Lucinda Gurly. His mother was the daughter of a country gentleman of Carlow. The Shaw family descended from Capt. William Shaw, a Hampshire gentleman of Scottish descent, who went to Ireland with William I in 1689. A first cousin of Shaw’s grandfather was Robert Shaw, of Bushy Park, who was made a baronet in 1821. As result, the parents of Shaw were always poor because they had to maintain a false standard without enough money. His father was ineffective and unsuccessful. Hence, Shaw inherited most from his independent, unromantic musical mother, a singing mistress.

Childhood of Shaw

Shaw’s early childhood was not a happy one. He was brought up in a home in which there was no love and affection. His father was a drunkard and did not care for the family. The mother was the one who ran the household. She did not any liking for domestic life and hated her husband. In such an atmosphere was Shaw brought up. Neglected by his parents, Shaw made his life and shaped his character himself. He became a teetotaler because of the drinking habits of his father. He however, inherited a sense of humour from his father.

Early Education

Shaw received his early education from Miss Caroline Hill, a gentlewoman. His uncle taught him Latin. He received his formal education at Wesley Connexional, later known as Wesley College in Dublin. But the school bored him and he took refuge in idieness. His mother who had a beautiful voice, created in him an interest in music. By the time he was 15, he had read the works of almost all great musicians. The National Gallery of Ireland provided him with good company. Shaw while still in his teens, became an unusually matured lad. He was encouraged by his father in his liking for literature. Shaw read Scott’s novels, The Pilgrim’s Progress Dickens and The Arabian Nights and even William Robertson’s History of Charles the Fifth and his History of Scotland at quite a young age. Through he was considered a stupid pupil by his teachers at Wesley, he was more cultured educated and had more Knowledge than others.

Jobs (Career)

When Shaw was 14 years old, he went in the office of a Dublin land agent. He made a junior clerk. He did not like his job but he did efficiently. His mother had gone to London in 1872 to seek her living as a music teacher. He followed her there in 1876, at the age of 20. For a time he worked in the office of the Edison Bell Telephone Company. Shaw’s arrival was not noticed in London. During his first nine years in the city his literary earnings were negligible: But he had to write, and he decided that writing must be a full time job.

The First Attempts at Greatness

When the Edison and Bell companies were united on June 1,1880, had to leave his job and he devoted himself fully to writing. During his first nine years in London he wrote five novels. At first no publisher could be found for them, but after some time four of them appeared in indistinct magazines. These were Irrational Knot (1880), Love among the Artists (1881), An Unsocial Socialist and Cashel Byron’s Profession (1883). His first novel, Immaturity, remained unpublished. Soon Shaw realised that he was not to be a novelist.

As an Orator and Political Thinker

In 1879-80 Shaw was taken to a debating society, the Zetetical Society by James Lecky. There he came in contact with Sydney Webb and Sydney Oliver. The association helped him to become a master of the platform. Over a period of 12 year from 1883 to 1895, he delivered a number of speeches here and there. Shaw was converted to socialism on September 2, 1882, when he came in contact with the author of Progress and Poverty, Henry George. Within the next two years he thoroughly read Karl Marx’s Das Capital. He also joined the Fabian Society on September 5, 1884. By now Shaw had become famous. He developed into the most famous Fabian of his time until he resigned from the society in 1911. He also wrote as a critic of art, literature music and drama, for several magazines.


In the year 1896, Shaw was introduced to an Irish millionaires, Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend. Her father was a member of the family of estate agents by whom Shaw had been employed. She was a woman of great character and firm will. He married her on June 1, 1898. Her wealth helped him to strengthen his position as a dramatist and her steady companionship was of the greatest value to him until her death in September, 1943.

As a Dramatist

Shaw’s career as a dramatist began in 1885. His first play, Widower’s Houses was not welcomed by the Press when it was first staged in 1892. It was followed by The Philanderer (1893) and Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1893), then came Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant published in 1898. The American productions of Arms and the Man and The Devil’s Discipline (1897) made Shaw financially successful. These two together with the Man of Destiny and Candida were staged in Germany, Austria, Hungary and Russia Shaw’s conquest of the American theatre-going public was completed in 1905 with the production of Man and Superman at Hudson Theatre, New York.

In November, 1926 the Swedish Academy awarded to him the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1925. With this prize money he set up the Anglo- Swedish Literary Foundation.

His Death

After his wife’s death in 1943, Shaw withdrew from the world. He had fulfilled the mission of his life and was now feeling a severe sense of loneliness. While he was in his garden one day, he fell and broke his leg. He was taken to hospital and he seemed to recover, but his kidney troubled him. He was taken to his home as desired by him. He died at the age of 94, peacefully at his country home at Ayot St. Lawrence (Hertfordshire) on November 2, 1950.

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