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Many years ago at a luncheon in honor of Bergson, Bernard Shaw read a paper supposedly expounding the Frenchman's philosophy. When Bergson interjected an embarrassed disclaimer, Shaw, not at all put out, smiled magisterially and replied: ""Oh, my dear fellow, I understand your philosophy better than you do."" Understanding everything better than anyone else has always been the public image of the Sage of Ayot St. Lawrence, and according to Professor Smith's brilliant and useful study, it has invariably hidden the true Shaw. ""GBS"" was merely a mask the dramatist carefully cultivated in order to express freely startling opinions and to get people to listen to them. In this sense, Shaw was light years ahead of Madison Avenue. Professor Smith's point, however, is not only that Shaw, especially in his youth, was at bottom an extremely sensitive, shy, self-doubting soul; but, much more importantly, his seemingly highly rationalistic approach to life-his anti-romanticism, the Fabian pamphleteering, the antiseptic socialism, the oracular with demonstrated in his comedies-all this was grounded in a deep, complex moral and religious ethos. And it was present in everything he did from Candida on. Shaw's celebrated Life Force, his dream of evolutionary progress, his incessant debating, the anti-clericalism, anti-authoritarian stances and so forth, cannot be understood without keeping in mind Shaw's idea or ideal of saintliness, of truth-seeking, of mystic individualism. It is a tantalizing argument-half Blakean, half existentialistic. Is it, nevertheless, accurate? The professor keeps one wondering.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1966
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin