MRS. G.B.S.: A Portrait by Janet Dunbar

MRS. G.B.S.: A Portrait

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When Charlotte Payne-Townshend married George Bernard Shaw in 1898 at forty-plus, she was a woman with a romantic past and a present fortune. Her story, related fluently here, reads like the fiction of her era for its intense encounters and the heroine's search, with wealth behind her and the world before her, for a meaningful life. The dramatic, anguished marriage of her parents taught Charlotte to abhor that state and to crave freedom. With the death of her parents, she achieved it and wealth besides. As an heiress she travelled to India, to Rome, and from a number of less serious rapprochements, two stood out: one with General Clery, whom she turned down with regret for her ideal of freedom, and Axel Munthe, who mesmerized her but cast her aside, after a summer in Rome. Back in England, trying to forget him, Charlotte met Beatrice Webb, and the course of her future life was cast. Influenced by the happiness of the Webb marriage and by the seriousness of the Fabian commitment, she was ready to marry George Bernard Shaw and look after her man of distinction. Their courtship comes to us in chatty, companionable letters -- mostly his. Indeed, letters form an important part of the book, the most unusual being those in the correspondence of Charlotte with T.E. Lawrence, a source of information so revealing that even Shaw was surprised at them after Charlotte's death. The inescapable question of whether the Shaws lived as man and wife is gainsaid with an intuitive nod toward the affirmative. Intuition is the approach here, and if the story is not deeply documented and bears its substantiations lightly, it reads very well indeed.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1963
Publisher: Harper & Row