Form and Content

In George Bernard Shaw, Olivia Coolidge tells the story of the great dramatist’s life in chronological order. Twelve chapters cover the significant segments of Shaw’s ninety-four years and are given appropriate titles. An insightful introduction considers Shaw as an Irish writer, and a sophisticated epilogue shifts to an assessment of Shaw’s achievements and historical importance, adroitly comparing him to other familiar authors. The book is richly illustrated throughout, with logically placed black-and-white photographs of Shaw, his relations and important acquaintances, and significant places and events in his life. Quite regrettably, Coolidge’s book lacks an index, a list of sources, and a list of suggested readings for additional nonfiction materials.

Coolidge begins Shaw’s story with his birth in Dublin, Ireland, on July 26, 1856, to an independent and willful mother and a genial but irresponsible and alcoholic father. Shaw’s family life was not particularly happy because his mother paid little attention to him and he grew up without much parental direction. From the fading, Irish gentility of his parents, Shaw generally acquired a sense of aristocratic hauteur that he maintained, in spite of his socialist attitudes, to the end of his life. More specifically, from his father he acquired a sense of wit and from his mother a love of music. Bored with formal schooling and mostly self-taught, Shaw eventually moved to London at the age of twenty and lived with his...

(The entire section is 611 words.)