BERNARD SHAW by Michael Holroyd


Vol. III, The Lure of Fantasy 1918-1951
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 Triumphant closing of Holroyd's massive life of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1951), begun with The Search for Love (1988) and The Pursuit of Power (1989)--a work 15 years in the writing. (The notes will be published separately.) Now WW I ends and Shaw, in a Chekhovian mood, writes Heartbreak House, his elegy for prewar England, a ``tragic'' play that he slyly complains has been accepted as ``a bedroom farce.'' Shaw girds himself for his greatest labor, the five-play metabiological history and future of mankind fantasy cycle, Back to Methuselah, an unplayably long philosophical treatise (well appraised by Holroyd) that nonetheless is staged first in Manhattan, then in Birmingham (England), much to Shaw's amaze. Then he refashions into English Jitto's Atonement, a play by his German translator, although Shaw's German is far, far worse than his translator's groping, misspelled English--and it's a hit! But the press is down on him for not being serious, so he accepts his wife Charlotte's urgings and decides to rescue the real Jeanne d'Arc from the cheesy image she's fallen into and once more allow her to be a legitimate heretic in his straightforward Saint Joan--for which he is universally praised for not being Shaw--and wins the Nobel Prize. Through all these events (which include helping T.E. Lawrence correct a six-pound manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom), Shaw's letters and public wit glow with no dimming of luster, although the truth is that he's a deeply shy man who likes to be alone. Mentally, his last years are strikingly vigorous despite ``the lure of fantasy'' in his playwriting. Don't miss Shaw's joy during Charlotte's last days as she undergoes remission of neurotic anxieties and drops 40 years from her face. Holroyd keeps a lightly even voice throughout so that every word Shaw utters--and he is clearly the greatest wit in the English language--glistens with intelligence against his fading hopes for humanity. (Thirty-two pages of b&w photographs--not seen.)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-394-57554-7
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1991


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