BERNARD SHAW: Vol. II, 1898-1918: The Pursuit of Power by Michael Holroyd
Kirkus Star

BERNARD SHAW: Vol. II, 1898-1918: The Pursuit of Power

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Shaw's star shoots to its zenith in volume two of Holroyd's vastly satisfying biographical trilogy, begun with the bouncing, widely praised The Search for Love (1988) and to be ended by The Lure of Fantasy. Shaw is 42 and recently married to Charlotte Payne-Townshend. He is also knocked flat by a series of physical accidents that keep him in wheelchairs and out of the marriage bed. Since Shaw and Charlotte seemingly have never engaged in sex, they choose to go on as celibates and, at least in this volume, never get down to ""greasy reality"" (as he calls sex in Man and Superman). Meanwhile, Shaw is pursued by several ladies and carries on many platonic but heated correspondences, the dizziest being with ""Stella,"" the middle-aged star Mrs. Patrick Campbell. During this affair, Shaw is moonstruck with love as never before and at last writes Pygmalion just for Lady Pat to play Eliza Doolittle (although she's 30 years too old for the role). The staging of this play is the new volume's energetic climax and shows Shaw scorching his feet in Oedipal hot water (Eliza is drawn in part from Shaw's dead mother; he thought any hint of romance between Eliza and Shaw/Higgins too ugly to think of, despite public demand for it). Before this, we watch his rise to midlife fame with Fannie's First Play, Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman, Major Barbara, and the ur-Absurdist farce Misalliance. Shaw wrote ever to change men's minds, not for art's sake--he would not lift his pen for art, only for the Life Force and socialism. What is moving about him here are his relentless gusto and sanity, as when he writes: ""This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."" Last seen he is being bitterly attacked for his antiwar speeches and pamphlets during WW I and dreaming up his elegy for prewar culture, Heartbreak House. A superb skim of a superhuman wit. Shaw would approve.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Random House