COLLECTED LETTERS 1911-1925, Vol. III by Bernard Shaw


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The opening letter of this over 900-page volume (the third in a series) is dated 11th January 1911. Twenty years before, Shaw had complained to his diary, ""This correspondence is getting intolerable."" If the gadfly/playwright of Ayot St. Lawrence was still finding letter writing onerous during the second and third decades of this century, there is no sign of it here. From a two-line postcard to Ezra Pound in which Shaw flatly refuses to purchase a copy of Joyce's about-to-be published Ulysses to a 29-page typewritten fancily history addressed to his would-be biographer, Timothy Demetrius O'Bolger, the nearly 600 communications flow with a spontaneity and precision of expression that is bedazzling. Shaw writes to economists, statesmen, fellow dramatists, Irish revolutionaries, theatrical producers, flirtatious actresses and Mother Superiors with equal assurance--dispensing opinions, advice, humor, support (rarely financial) and (more frequently) exasperated scorn. The 254 correspondents are as varied as Stanley Baldwin and Frank Harris, Maxim Gorki and Ellen Terry, Lawrence of Arabia and John Barrymore. The subjects range from Bolshevism to boxing, from suffragettes to seduction, from martyrdom to motorcycles. As might be expected, letters to Mrs. Patrick Campbell outnumber those to any other correspondent. They chart the long, tempestuous course of the relationship between ""GBS"" and his ""Stella"" from, one suspects, a slightly self-induced rapture (Shaw was 56 when they met) through the inevitable recriminations and on to sexagenarian reminiscing. Laurence has made his selections, most of them previously unpublished, with an eye not only toward historical and biographical relevance but toward the reader's entertainment as well. His explanatory headnotes, while necessarily brief, are helpful in identifying the hundreds of persons and situations alluded to in the text. To Shaw, the correspondence may have been ""intolerable""; to today's reader, the letters are a thoroughgoing delight.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking