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Bernard Shaw: The One-Volume Definitive Edition Paperback – December 17, 2005

4.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Michael Holroyd is readable, sensible, and wise.... He has written a remarkable book, as authoritative as it is enchanting."

From the Inside Flap

When Michael Holroyd's multivolume life of Bernard Shaw was published, it was hailed as a masterpiece, and William Golding predicted that it would take its place "among the great biographies." Now the biography is available for the first time in a lively and accessible abridgment by the author. This is the quintessence of Shaw. The narrative has a new verve and pace, and the light and shade of Shaw's world are more dramatically revealed as Holroyd counterpoints the private and public Shaw with inimitable insight and scholarship.
Playwright, wit, socialist, polemicist, vegetarian, and irresistible charmer, Bernard Shaw was the most controversial literary figure of his age, the scourge of Victorian values and middle-class pretensions. Born in Dublin in 1856, he grew up there, a lonely child in an unsettling menage a trois. His father, George Carr Shaw, had turned to drink, and his mother was muse to a Svengali-like music teacher whom she followed to London. The young Shaw, anxious to escape his heritage, also left for London to reinvent himself as the legendary G.B.S.--novelist, lover, politician, music critic, and finally playwright. From his first passionate affair with a beautiful middle-aged widow, he moved on to flirtations and liaisons with young actresses and socialists before finally settling into marriage in 1898.
At the turn of the century, Shaw was in his prime, a theatrical impresario and author of those great campaigning plays--Man and Superman, Major Barbara, The Doctor's Dilemma, and John Bull's Other Island--that used laughter as an anesthetic for the operation he performed on British society. By 1914 the author of Pygmalion was the most popular writer in England, and increasingly recognized throughout Europe and America. Though ready with advice to others on how to stay married, he fell painfully in love with two of the most dazzling actresses of the age, Ellen Terry and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
The reluctant recipient of a Nobel Prize for literature and an Academy Award for his screenplay for Pygmalion, Shaw became an international icon between the two world wars, feted from China and Soviet Russia to India and New Zealand, though still contriving to provoke the establishment in the United States, South Africa, and Ireland. In old age he was vigorous and prolific, espousing many new and quixotic causes. He revealed himself increasingly as conjurer, fabulist, and seer through his powerful late works, including Saint Joan, the Chekhovian Heartbreak House, the modernist fantasy Back to Methuselah, and the imaginative dream plays and political extravaganzas.
Covering almost a century, from 1856 to 1950, this unparalleled life of Shaw presents the magnificent double portrait of an age and of a man who was born fifty years too soon. Holroyd magically captures the essence of Shaw's protean genius in a tragicomedy that
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (December 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393327183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393327182
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #692,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
I must say that I am shocked that I am the first person to review this amazing book. If you've ever read Shaw his plays can seem like schematic exercises in speechifying rather than actual blood and guts drama. Holroyd's major achievement is pointing out how personal Shaw's writing really was.

Let's allow ourselves a quick look first at the list of Shaw's masterpieces: "Arms and the Man," "Candida," "Caesar and Cleopatra," "Man and Superman," "Major Barbara," "The Doctor's Dilemma," "Androcles and the Lion," "Pygmalion," "Heartbreak House" and "Saint Joan." Whew! Each one is a scholarly gem but is still "revive-able" and profitable to any management merely interested in keeping bottoms attached to seats. Add to these plays that might not reek of literary genius but are still eminently "act-able" and enjoyable in the theatre ("Mrs. Warren's Profession," "You Never Can Tell," "The Devil's Disciple," "Misalliance," "Fanny's First Play," and "Too True Too Be Good") and we have undoubtedly one of the greatest giants who ever wrote for the stage.

What makes this book remarkable is we don't feel like we are in the great man's shadow but in the real man's presence. It's as if we were at lunch with him quaffing the cold milk and noshing on the vegetarian fare he survived on while laughing at the world with him. And what's truly eye opening is that his plays weren't treatises but actual personal works that reflected how their author saw the world. And not just as a social critic but as a person.

This bio finds the human soul behind the comic mask. It is indispensable for the insight it provides into the motivation, creation and emotional layout of each of the plays. Bravo Mr. Holroyd! This book is for any fan of the stage or amazing personalities!
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This is a superior biography of an intellectual by an intellectual. George Bernard Shaw overcame an emotionally refrigerated childhood to achieve multiple artistic successes offset by some tilting at political windmills. He emerges from Mr. Holroyds' "pen" as a witty, entertaining, generous, compassionate, talented dramatist and would-be-reformer who was garrulous nearly to a fault. A socialist and declared communist, Shaw (GBS) was a champion of the poor and the downtrodden, but somewhat doctrinaire in his societal remedies. The book abounds in hilarity, both by GBS and Mr. Holroyd. Shaw led a long life, both as a charmer and charmed eccentric. Every decade or so, he seemed to experience a Vesuvius-like warming of his tweeds that inexorably led him to "follow his beard" to an array of love nests. I say "charmed" because he never seems to have been found out and thrown out by his wife, or punched out by an enraged cuckold. Because of the antics of Shaw and his crowd, in some sections of the book, I felt as though I was reading of the experiences of a cast of dotty characters in a British TV sitcom. Shaw had a great literary output, and Holroyd dutifully takes the reader through all of it, sometimes wearyingly. All in all, GBS seems to have lived a decent life that left the world a better place. Mr Holroyd has written a superb account of that life.
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I had seen a different version of this book at the Shaw Festival in Canada for nearly $40! I was delighted to find this one on Amazon....same content but in a much better, more user-friendly volume and much cheaper. I plan to teach a three part series on Shaw for our local Osher Lifelong Learners program next year. This will be the basis of my research. Thanks!
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Engaging insight into Shaw, the person, and Shaw, the influence on his times. Surprised by how much history I'm reviewing as well as discovering.
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Wonderful. Bernard Shaw is a delight.
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