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Biography of George Bernard Shaw

Photo of George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw was a dramatist and one of the earliest members of the Fabian Society which later became the Labour Party.

When and Where was he Born?

26th July 1856, 33 Synge Street, Dublin, Ireland.

Family Background:

George Bernard Shaw was the son of George Carr Shaw a corn trader and alcoholic and Lucille Bessie Gurley an amateur singer and teacher. Had two elder sisters, Lucille Frances (Lucy) a singer and Elinor Agnes (Yuppy).

Education:

Wesleyan Connexional School but claimed to be self-educated. His father had no money to send him to university.

Timeline of George Bernard Shaw:

1865: The family sets up house with the Dublin concert Promoter George John Vandeleur Lee.

1873: Lee moves to London and Shaw’s mother and sisters follow him leaving him alone with his father. Shaw gets a job in Dublin working as a clerk for a firm of Land Agents.

1876: His sister Elinor dies of Tuberculosis at the age of 21. He moves to London and is supported by his mother whilst he tries to establish himself as a writer. He writes five novels all of which are rejected by London publishers. He contributes articles to the “Pall Mall Gazette”.

1879: George Bernard Shaw finds employment with the Edison Telephone Company. He learns shorthand and begins studying several foreign languages as well as boxing.

1881: Shaw becomes a vegetarian in an attempt to stop his severe migraine attacks.

1882: He listens to Henry George lecture on land nationalisation and he joins the Social Democratic Federation later becoming friends with such people as William Morris.

1884: He joins the Fabian Society (named after a Roman General who advocated harassment rather than all out war) where he joins with Sidney Webb in trying to establish Socialism as a credible doctrine. He becomes an ardent and well respected speaker at public functions over the next few years. He is given the job as Art Critic for the “World” magazine.

1888: Shaw becomes music critic for the “Star” newspaper under the pen name of “Corno di Bassetto” where he achieves considerable fame. He also becomes a drama critic for the “Saturday Review”. He meets Karl Marx’s daughter Elinor and is to be profoundly influenced by Marx’s book “Das Kapital” which he had read in the Reading Room of the British Museum.

29 Fitzroy Square
29 Fitzroy Square, London where Virginia Woolf lived and later George Bernard Shaw (copyright Anthony Blagg)
George Bernard Shaw house
House which Shaw lived in from 1887-1898 (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1890: Shaw gives a lecture on Ibsen to the Fabian Society.

1892: He is asked to write a play after arranging for a private production of Ibsen’s “Ghosts”. “Widower’s Houses” was the result. Most of his plays were published at his own expense in reading editions.

1893: Shaw attends a Fabian Society conference at Bradford which sees the creation of the Independent Labour Party (later to become the Labour Party).

1897: “The Devils Disciple” is produced in New York as it is deemed unsuitable for the London stage. He stands for an uncontested vacancy for a “Vestryman” (Parish Councillor) in the district of St Pancras in London.

1898: He marries Charlotte Payne Townshend, a wealthy Irish protestant, at Covent Garden Register Office in London.

1899: London local government is reformed and Shaw is elected as a councillor for the newly formed Metropolitan Borough Council of St Pancras.

1902: Publication of “Man and Superman”, one of his finest philosophical works.

1903: Shaw ceases to be a local Councillor.

Photograph of the British Museum
The British Museum, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1914-18: His “Commonsense about War” is controversial and he loses popularity during the First world War as the public mood was for something a bit more light hearted.

1923: He is approached by the millionaire and founder of Birmingham Repertory Theatre Sir Barry Jackson who wanted to stage the first production of “Back to Methuselah”.

1925: Shaw is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

1929: Barry Jackson sets up the Malvern Festival with the first season being entirely devoted to the plays of Shaw.

Malvern Theatre
The Festival Theatre Malvern (copyright Anthony Blagg)
George Bernard Shaw Plaque
Plaque on side of Festival Theatre, Malvern (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1931: He visits the Soviet Union.

1932: Shaw makes a world tour accompanied by his wife.

1938: A film version of “Pygmalion” is produced although Shaw would not allow any cuts to the dialogue.

1943: Death of his wife.

1945: “Caesar and Cleopatra” is filmed.

When and Where Did he Die?

2nd November 1950, Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England, after an accident pruning an apple tree.

Age at Death:

94.

Written Works:

1881: “Cashel Byron’s Profession”.
1883: “An Unsocial Socialist”.
1889: “Fabian Essays in Socialism”.
1891: “The Quintessence of Ibsenism”.
1892: “Widower’s Houses”.
1894: “Arms and the Man”.
1897: “Candia”. “The Devil’s Disciple”. “The Man of Destiny”.
1898: “The Perfect Wagnerite”. “Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant”. (Containing “Arms and the Man” “Mrs Warren’s Profession”. “The Philanderer”. “Widower’s Houses”. “You Never Can Tell”.)
1900: “Captain Brassbound’s Conversion”.
1902: “Three Plays for Puritans”.
1905: “Major Barbara”. “Man and Superman”.
1906: “The Doctor’s Dilemma”.
1908: “Getting Married”.
1912: “Missalliance”.
1913: “Androcles and the Lion”.
1914: “Pygmalion”.
1919: “Heartbreak House”.
1921: “Back to Methuselah”.
1923: St. Joan”.
1928: “The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism”.
1929: “The Apple Cart.”
1932: “Too Good to be True”.
1936: “The Millionairess”.
1939: “In Good King Charles’s Golden Days”.
1950: “Far Fetched Fables”.

Marriage:

1898 to Charlotte Payne Townshend a wealthy Irish protestant at Covent Garden Register Office, London. (Died 1943).

Site of Grave:

Ashes scattered in his garden at Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire, England.

Places of Interest:

HERTFORDSHIRE:

Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St. Lawrence, the house where he lived with his wife for 44 years.

LONDON:

British Museum.
The British Library, Reading Room.

WORCESTERSHIRE:

The Festival Theatre, Great Malvern.

Further Information:

Shaw Society, C/O AJL Gayle, 5A The Lane, Blackheath Park, London, S23 9SL.

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