The Various Shades of George Bernard Shaw

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George Bernard Shaw
Mrs. Warren’s Profession
Possible Lines of Approach Shaw as a feminist writer Shaw as a socialist writer Shaw as a “new” dramatist Notes on Approaching Mrs. Warren’s Profession Shaw as a feminist writer Gender and identity Education, professionalization, and sexuality Marriage and familial duty Shaw as a socialist writer Shaw as a “new” dramatist Questions for Discussion Comparison/Context Questions

Possible Lines of Approach
Shaw lived to be almost one hundred, during a turbulent century (1856-1950) that experienced radical revisions to the practice of scientific inquiry, to the laws of evolution, to cosmology, to economics, to the status of women, and to the nature of warfare. His first play, Widowers’ Houses, was written when Queen Victoria occupied the throne; his last was a product of the atomic age, and he lived to see popular film adaptations of several of his works. He is the only writer to have been awarded both the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1925) and an Oscar (for the 1938 screenplay of his play Pygmalion). Awkward and painfully shy as a young man, he deliberately refashioned himself as a brilliant debater, sought-after orator, and public intellectual. He served as a municipal politician, helped found the London School of Economics, campaigned for women’s suffrage and against vaccination, appeared before a Parliamentary committee on theatrical censorship, wrote about 250,000 letters, wooed countless women in print and in life, got married at 42 to a wealthy heiress with whom he probably never had sex, and founded a society for spelling reform in English. His plays are the products of an incisive mind and sharp wit grappling with the transition between the old world and the new, and the resulting mix of ideas and dramatic forms makes his plays difficult to slot comfortably into a single period; like the playwright who wrote them, they span the transition from the Victorian to the modern age.

Shaw as a feminist writer
• This approach emphasizes the multiple aspects of the “woman question” that Mrs. Warren’s Profession addresses, including – education – professionalization – identity and gender – sexuality – marriage – familial duty

Related contextual materials for these issues appear in four places: the web-based “In Context” section for Bernard Shaw; two “Contexts” sections in the print version of the Broadview Anthology of British Literature (“The Place of Women in Society” in “The Victorian Era,” and “Gender and Sexual Orientation” in “The Twentieth Century and Beyond”). Further research about prostitution in Victorian art and social consciousness is available through the Victorian web: Shaw’s attitude towards prostitution can be compared with D.G. Rosetti’s in “Jenny” (Broadview Anthology of British Literature “Victorian Era”) and/or Hardy’s in “The Ruined Maid” (Broadview Anthology of British Literature “Twentieth Century”); or with depictions of “fallen” women in Christina Rosetti’s “Goblin Market” and/or Augusta Webster’s “A Castaway” (Broadview Anthology of British Literature “Victorian Era”).

Recommended additional resources Eltis, Sos. “The Fallen Woman on Stage: Maidens, Magdalens, and the Emancipated Female.” The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre. Edited by Kerry Powell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Gainor, J. Ellen. Shaw’s Daughters: Dramatic and Narrative Constructions of Gender. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991. Nelson, Carolyn Christensen. A New Woman Reader. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001. Shaw, Bernard. Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Edited by L.W. Conolly. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2005.

Shaw as a socialist writer
• Shaw emphasizes that the issue of prostitution is a matter of economics at least as much as it is a matter of gender or sexuality. This approach focuses on Shaw’s indictment of capitalism as the economic basis for a just...
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