Man and Superman

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The action begins shortly after the death of Ann Whitefield’s father. She has made certain that one of the two guardians designated for her in his will is John Tanner, a radical writer whose views are essentially Shaw’s. While professing to be the most demure of young women, Ann is a predatory huntress who has set her cap for Tanner and stalks him relentlessly while he talks endlessly. She pursues Tanner across most of Europe, catches him in the Sierra Nevada, and triumphs over him through her irresistible sexual lure, which Shaw prefers to call the “Life Force.”

The interlude in Hell is a dream vision that Tanner has while captured by bandits. It is a dazzlingly sustained discussion of ideas, with Shaw converting several of his leading characters from the core play into the cast of Mozart’s opera, DON GIOVANNI (1787). Thus John Tanner becomes Don Juan, but an inverted, Shavian hero: His reputation as a heartless libertine is here ill-founded; he protests that he kept running away from women in fear and self-defense, as Tanner ran away from Ann Whitefield. Ann is now Mozart’s Donna Ana, as prudishly pious as Ann was adventurously avant-garde. Roebuck Ramsden, a reactionary foil for Tanner, becomes Ana’s father, “The Statue.” And the genially romantic leader of the Sierra brigands, Mendoza, turns into an equally affable Devil, respectable and democratic.

After a brilliant verbal duel in which Don Juan becomes Shaw’s advocate...

(The entire section is 568 words.)