(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Michael Holroyd’s engrossing, penetrating, and fair-minded book is the first biography of Shaw since 1956. One of its main themes is the complexity of Shaw’s emotional life and his attitude toward women. As a boy Shaw had been denied love by his mother; as a man he both longed for love and fled from it, and as “G.B.S,” the persona which as “professional man of genius” he created for himself, he attempted to transcend the need for it through a dazzling display of intellectual brilliance.

Shaw’s career makes fascinating reading. Particularly noticeable from this volume is his extraordinary persistence. When every publisher he tried rejected novel after novel, his response was simply to write another one. By his mid-twenties he had five unpublished novels on his hands and could not get into print with anything else, either article or short story. Even when he turned to drama in the 1890’s, everyone, friend and enemy alike, insisted that he could not write plays. Shaw rose inexorably by his own genius, however, and one leaves this book in awe of the clarity and incisiveness of his mind, his command of the language, both spoken and written, and the sheer range of his interests and expertise--the latter all the more remarkable when one remembers that he was largely self-educated.

Holroyd’s book is also spiced with many memorable Shavian witticisms. After the first performance of ARMS AND THE MAN, for example, Shaw stepped out from behind the curtain to speak to the cheering audience, but addressed his remarks directly to the one man who had uttered a loud “Boo!": “My dear fellow, I quite agree with you, but what are we against so many?” The remarkable thing, as Holroyd points out, was that Shaw was being perfectly truthful.

Sources for Further Study

The Atlantic. CCLXII, October, 1988, p. 91.

Chicago Tribune. September 25, 1988, XIV, p. 7.

Library Journal. CXIII, October 1, 1988, p. 88.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 9, 1988, p. 3.

The New Republic. CXCIX, November 14, 1988, p. 38.

The New York Review of Books. XXXV, November 24, 1988, p. 3.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, October 30, 1988, p. 1.

Newsweek. CXII, October 24, 1988, p. 75.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIV, August 19, 1988, p. 62.

Time. CXXXII, October 10, 1988, p. 94.

The Times Literary Supplement. September 16, 1988, p. 1007.