Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Superman

Sally Peters, Author
Sally Peters, Author Yale University Press $47 (342p) ISBN 978-0-300-06097-3
Reviewed on: 03/04/1996
Release date: 03/01/1996
Paperback - 344 pages - 978-0-300-07500-7
Hardcover - 353 pages - 978-0-585-36114-7
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George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was haunted by the idea that he was a reincarnation of William Shakespeare. According to Peters's startlingly incisive biographical study, full of fresh insights, Shaw saw himself as in many ways the idealized ""superman"" of his plays--the heroic artist as moral, powerful and courageous outsider. Yet Shaw, who hated hypocrisy, was, in Peters's estimate, an arch-hypocrite, touted as a feminist while he played women off each other in triangular relationships and used the threat of physical violence to assert control over his mistress, Irish widow Jane Patterson, whom he ""pretended to throw out of (a) window"" (in the words of Shaw's diary). Peters, a visiting lecturer at Wesleyan, says Shaw's unconsummated marriage to Charlotte Payne-Townshend was ""a protective but sterile womb"" and traces his misogyny to overidentification with his cold, selfish mother, who dumped Shaw's drunkard father. She illuminates the vegetarian, teetotaling playwright's obsessions, including his devotion to boxing and mountain climbing and his preference for unbleached, knitted wool clothing. Preaching eugenics, seeking spiritual salvation, Shaw projected his romanticized self-image onto the stage in telling parables for humanity. Photos. (Mar.)
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