Cover image for SHAW 24: Dionysian Shaw Edited by Michel W. Pharand

SHAW 24: Dionysian Shaw

Edited by Michel W. Pharand


304 pages
6" × 9"
16 b&w illustrations

SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies

SHAW 24: Dionysian Shaw

Edited by Michel W. Pharand

L. W. Conolly gives a comprehensive and detailed account of the twenty-five years of resistance by the Lord Chamberlain to the public presentation of Mrs Warren's Profession on the English stage. Conolly's examination of public and private commentary and correspondence of the Lord Chamberlain, his officials, Shaw, and various theater managers provides illuminating insights into the bizarre world of the British censorship system.


  • Description
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
L. W. Conolly gives a comprehensive and detailed account of the twenty-five years of resistance by the Lord Chamberlain to the public presentation of Mrs Warren's Profession on the English stage. Conolly's examination of public and private commentary and correspondence of the Lord Chamberlain, his officials, Shaw, and various theater managers provides illuminating insights into the bizarre world of the British censorship system.

Bernard F. Dukore examines Major Barbara not from the perspective of discussion play or high comedy—outlooks that frequently inform analyses of this comedy—but from that of sexuality, which is central to a play that concerns two couples engaged to be married, a young man for whom his mother wants to arrange a marriage, and parents who were estranged after his birth. A prominent concern of Dukore's analysis is the implication of this perspective for actors and directors of the play.

Peter Gahan examines Shaw's engagement with Freud and the origins of psychoanalysis in the context of Shaw's 1922 translation into English of the German play Frau Gittas Suhne, written by his Viennese translator, Siegfried Trebitsch. Gahan further proposes a parallel between the transgressive adulterous relationship that propels the action of Jitta's Atonement and the transgression perpetrated by a translator on an author's original text.

Patricia Carter interviews Peter Tompkins, who makes public a previously confidential portion of Shaw's 4 December 1944 letter to Molly Tompkins (held in her son's private collection), thus revealing the true nature of their relationship.

Dan H. Laurence, approaching Mrs Warren's Profession as it passes its century mark, examines the Victorian underworld that forms its backdrop. He contends that the play's ethics have grown with the years and that it has found its niche among Shaw's most successful dramas.

Margery M. Morgan takes a cultural-historical view of Shaw's part in the movement away from "medieval ideas" toward enlightened understanding of sexuality and gender. In particular, she relates his thinking on these matters to the network of scientific Humanitarians and Arts-and-Crafts aesthetes that accepted the Dubliner into their society. Testimony to his courage and clarity, his reservations and defensive strategies, is drawn from his plays and letters across the years.

To demonstrate the claim that Shaw's imagination as it is revealed in the plays is intensely and complexly heterosexual, Harold E. Pagliaro passes over plays like Man and Superman, Major Barbara, and Misalliance, where the Life Force works overtly to unite lovers of its own choosing, and concentrates instead on Candida and Heartbreak House, plays in which complex perversions of the heterosexual ideal of the Life Force abound.

Karma Waltonen demonstrates how Shaw's Saint Joan illustrates his belief that the individual, through spirit and genius, can transcend the biological determinism of gender. In Shaw's vision, Joan is someone who has at least partially fulfilled that transcendence, and who, like Shaw himself, has been made abject because of her superiority.

Rodelle Weintraub offers another in a series of articles that examines the subtext of a manifest play to explicate the problem-solving dream in its latent play. Man and Superman, as a pre-absurdist play, seems deliberately to make little sense unless one views it as a problem-solving dream-play in which the latent play complements the manifest play and solves the deep-seated emotional problem of the dreamer.

Stanley Weintraub evokes the relationship over four decades between G.B.S. and Kathleen Scott, the attractive and talented woman who became wife, then widow, of Antarctic explorer Robert Scott. However avuncular Shaw considered his friendship to be, it always had a sensual, if safe, edge to it. Charlotte, whose marriage to Shaw was asexual, even let Kathleen teach G.B.S. to dance. Kathleen also sculpted him memorably—and he put her subtly into his plays.




Michel W. Pharand


Patricia M. Carter


Dan H. Laurence



L. W. Conolly


Margery M . Morgan


Bernard F. Dukore


Rodelle Weintraub


Peter Gahan


Stanley Weintraub


Karma Waltonen


Harold Pagliaro


Bernard Shaw


Michel W. Pharand


Shaw's Black Girl: Layers of Ideas (Bernard Shaw's "The Black Girl in Search of God": The Story Behind the Story, by Leon Hugo)

Gale K. Larson

Letters of Shaw and the Webbs Survive Editing (Selected Correspondence of Bernard Shaw: Bernard Shaw and the Webbs, by Alex C. Michalos and Deborah C. Poff)

Alan Andrews

"From Little Acorns . . ." (Selected Correspondence of Bernard Shaw: Bernard Shaw and Barry Jackson, by L. W. Conolly)

R. F. Dietrich

Bernard Shaw: Realist, Reformer, Revolutionist (Bernard Shaw's Remarkable Religion: A Faith That Fits the Facts, by Stuart E. Baker)

Michel W. Pharand

Shaw Completely Dated (A Bernard Shaw Chronology, by A. M. Gibbs)

Charles A. Carpenter


John R. Pfeiffer


Bernard Shaw


[Shaw’s letter to Frank Harris, 24 June 1930, is published in Dan H. Laurence, ed., Bernard Shaw: Collected Letters IV, 1926–1950 (New York: Viking, 1988), pp. 190–93. A slightly bowdlerized version appears at the end of the chapter entitled “Shaw’s Sex Credo” in Harris’s Bernard Shaw: An Unauthorized Biography (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1931; London, Victor Gollancz, 1931). Substantial changes, deletions, and additions were made for republication as “To Frank Harris on Sex in Biography,” chapter XVI of Shaw’s Sixteen Self Sketches (London: Constable, 1949). The letter is also found in Stanley Weintraub, ed., The Playwright and the Pirate: Bernard Shaw and Frank Harris: A Correspondence (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1982), whose Introduction summarizes the Shaw/Harris relationship.

For their published versions (upon which the one below is based), Laurence and Weintraub consulted the text of the original manuscript letter in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. However, the letter as it appears below is a conflation of three documents: Shaw’s 1930 letter, the changes made for the 1931 Harris biography, and those made for the 1949 sketches. In one instance, for example, Shaw goes from “copulations” (1930) to “gallantries” (1931) to “sex histories” (1949).

Given the context of certain publication by Harris, either verbatim or as (possibly distorted) narrative, Shaw’s 1930 letter is surprisingly frank. Even his friends H. G. Wells and Arnold Bennett, both incorrigible womanizers, never publicized their sexual experiences in as much detail or with such désinvolture as Shaw does here. A few years earlier, on the other hand, the priapic Harris had unabashedly described his own sexual adventures in his notorious memoirs, My Life and Loves (4 vols., 1922–27; vol. 5, 1954)—“more fantasy than fact,” cautions Weintraub (xiii)—the first volume of which was burned by Charlotte Shaw in the fireplace!

The reasons for Shaw’s frankness on 24 June—and for his closing caveat: “above all no pornography”—are found in the post scriptum to his previous letter of 20 June. There he cautions Harris that his letter “does not answer the modern biographer’s first question nor satisfy the modern reader’s Freudian curiosity, which is ‘How did you respond to your sexual urges?’” Shaw promises to write further about what he calls “a very wide and complex subject” (quoted in Weintraub, 233). Four days later, he did.

For publication the following year, however, Shaw cleaned up his language: “copulations” was softened to “gallantries and “whore” became “mistress.” And an allusion to Jenny Patterson as “sexually insatiable” was deleted, perhaps out of consideration for Charlotte. By 1949 (Charlotte having died in 1943), Shaw was free to thoroughly revise (in some cases rewrite) his 1930 letter, referring to prostitutes and “Sunday husbands,” to sexual experience as a “natural appetite,” and to his marriage as a “relation in which sex had no part.” At ninety-three, Shaw was still concerned about the wide and complex subject of his sexual urges.1

A note on the text: Brace brackets { } indicate the few 1931 changes, while square brackets [ ] mark the numerous 1949 emendations. Passages in bold are additions; all other bracketed passages indicate deletions. Minor changes—in syntax, punctuation, phrasing, verb tense, pronoun use—have not been included.—M.W.P.]

<one line space or ornament>

Dear Frank Harris,

First, O [sex-obsessed] Biographer, get it clear in your mind that you can learn nothing about your [sitter (or Biographee—) from a mere record of his {copulations.}] {gallantries.} [biographees from their sex histories.] [You have no such record in the case of Shakespeare, and a pretty full one for a few years in the case of Pepys: but you know much more about Shakespeare than about Pepys. The explanation is that the relation between the parties in copulation is not a personal relation.] [The sex relation is not a personal relation.] It can be irresistibly desired and rapturously [executed] [consummated] between persons who could not endure one another for a day in any other relation. If I were to tell you every such adventure that I have enjoyed you would be none the wiser as to [my personal, nor even as to my sexual history.] [the sort of man I am.] You would know only what you already know: that I am a human being. If you have any doubts as to my normal virility, dismiss them from your mind. I was not impotent; I was not sterile; I was not homosexual; and I was extremely, though not promiscuously, susceptible.

Also I was entirely free from the neurosis [(as it seems to me)] [(as I class it)] of Original Sin. I never associated sexual intercourse with delinquency[.] [,] [I associated it always with delight, and had no] [nor had any] scruples nor [or] remorses nor [or] misgivings of conscience. [about it.] Of course I had scruples, and effectively inhibitive ones too, about getting women “into trouble” [(or letting them get themselves into it with me)] or cuckolding my friends; and I [understood that chastity can be a passion] [held chastity to be a passion] just as intellect is a passion; but St Paul was to me always a pathological case. Sexual experience seemed a [necessary completion of human growth; and] [a natural appetite, and its satisfaction a completion of human experience necessarily for fully qualified authorship.] I was not attracted [to] [by] virgins as such. I preferred [fully matured] women who knew what they were doing.

[As I have told you,] [You were amazed and incredulous when I told you that] my adventures began when I was 29. But it would be a prodigious mistake to take that as the date of the beginning of my sexual life. Do not misunderstand this: I was perfectly continent except for the involuntary incontinencies of dreamland, which were very infrequent. But as between Oscar Wilde, who gave 16 as the age at which sex begins, and Rousseau, who declared that his blood boiled with [sensuality] [it] from his birth [(but wept when Madame de Warens initiated him)] my experience confirms Rousseau and [is amazed at] [confutes] Wilde. Just as I cannot remember any time when I could not read and write, so I cannot remember any time when I did not exercise my [overwhelming] imagination in telling stories about women.

[I was, as all young people should be, a votary of the Uranian Venus.] [All young people should be votaries of the Uranian Venus to keep them chaste: that is why Art is vitally important.] I was steeped in romantic [music] [opera] from my childhood. I knew all the pictures and [the] [antique Greek] statues in the National Gallery of Ireland [(a very good one)] by heart. I read [Byron and] everything [or romantic fiction] I could lay my hands on. Dumas père made French history like an opera by Meyerbeer for me. From our cottage on Dalkey Hill I [contemplated an eternal Shelleyan vision] [surveyed an enchanting panorama] of sea, sky, and mountain. [Real life was only a squalid interruption to an imaginary paradise.] I was overfed on honey dew. The Uranian Venus was bountiful.

The difficulty about the Uranian Venus is that though she [saves you from squalid] [can save us from premature] debaucheries and enables you to prolong your physical virginity long after your adolescence, she may sterilize you by giving you imaginary amours on the plains of heaven [with goddesses and angels and even devils so enchanting] [so magical] that they spoil you for real women [or—if you are a woman—] and for real men. You become inhuman through a surfeit of beauty and an excess of voluptuousness. You [may] end as an ascetic, a saint, an old bachelor, an old maid [(in short, a celibate)] because, like Heine, you cannot ravish the Venus de Milo or be ravished by the Hermes of Praxiteles. Your love poems are like Shelley’s Epipsychidion, irritating to terre à terre sensual [men and] women, who know at once that [you are making them palatable by] [we are in love with our own vision and only] pretending they are something that they are not, [and cannot stand comparison with.] [neither desire nor hope to be.]

Now you know how I lived, a continent virgin, [but an incorrigible philanderer] until I was 29, and ran away even when the handkerchief was thrown at [to] me. [; for I wanted love, but not to be appropriated and lose my boundless Uranian liberty.]

From that time until my marriage there was always some lady at my disposal; {some kindly lady available} [During the 14 years before my marriage at 43 there was always some lady in the case;] and I tried all the experiments and learned what there was to be learnt from them. [They were “all for love”;] [The ladies were unpaid;] for I had no spare money; I earned [only] enough to keep me on a second floor, and took the rest out, not in money, but in freedom to preach Socialism. [Prostitutes, who often accosted me, never attracted me.]

When at last I could afford to dress presentably, I [soon] became accustomed to women falling in love with me. I did not pursue women: I was pursued by them.

Here again do not jump at conclusions. All the [my] pursuers did not want sexual intercourse. [They wanted company and friendship.] Some were happily married, and [were affectionately appreciative of my understanding] [appreciated our understanding] that sex was barred. [They wanted Sunday husbands, and plenty of them.]2 Some were prepared to buy friendship with pleasure, having [made up their minds] [learnt from a varied experience] that men were made that way. Some were [sexual geniuses, quite unbearable in any other capacity.] [enchantresses, quite unbearable as housemates.] No two cases were alike: William Morris’s dictum “that all taste alike” [“they all taste alike”] was not, as Longfellow puts it, [“spoken of the soul.”] [“spoken to the soul.”]

[I found sex hopeless] [I was never duped by sex] as a basis for permanent relations, [and never] [nor] dreamt of marriage in connection with it. I put everything else before it, and never refused or broke an engagement to speak on Socialism to pass a gallant evening. [I liked sexual intercourse] [I valued sexual experience] because of its [amazing] power of producing a celestial flood of emotion and exaltation [of existence] which, however momentary, gave me a sample of [what may one day be the normal state of being for mankind in intellectual ecstasy.] [the ecstasy that may one day be the normal condition of conscious intellectual activity.] [I always gave the wildest expression to this in a torrent of words, partly because I felt it due to the woman to know what I felt in her arms, and partly because I wanted her to share it. But except perhaps on one occasion I never felt quite convinced that I had carried the lady more than half as far as she carried me: the capacity for it varies like any other capacity. I remember one woman who had a {quite innocent} sort of affectionate worship for me {saying} {explaining} that she had to leave her husband because sexual intercourse {felt, as she put it,} {hurt her physically,} “like someone sticking a finger into my eye.” Between {her} {this extreme case} and the heroine of my first adventure, {who was sexually insatiable,} there was an enormous range of sensation; and the range of celestial exaltation must be still greater.

When I married I was too experienced to make the frightful mistake of simply setting up a permanent {whore} {mistress}; nor was my wife making the complementary mistake. There was nothing whatever to prevent us from satisfying our sexual needs without paying that price for it; and it was for other considerations that we became man and wife. In permanence and seriousness my consummated love affairs count for nothing besides the ones that were either unconsummated or ended by discarding that relation.]

[Not until I was past 40 did I earn enough to marry without seeming to marry for money, nor my wife at the same age without suspicion of being driven by sex starvation. As man and wife, we found a new relation in which sex had no part. It ended the old gallantries, flirtations, and philanderings for both of us. Even of these it was the ones that were never consummated that left the longest and kindliest memories.]

Do not forget that all marriages are different, and that a marriage between [two] young people followed by parentage cannot [must not] be lumped in with a childless partnership between [two] middle aged people who have passed the age at which [it is safe to] [the bride can safely] bear a first child.

And now, no romance and above all no pornography.

1930 G.B.S.

Mailing List

Subscribe to our mailing list and be notified about new titles, journals and catalogs.