Bernard Shaw: The Ascent of the Supermanby Sally Peters
When he died in 1950, Bernard Shaw was a Nobel laureate hailed as the second greatest playwright in the English language. At the same time, his strangely flamboyant personality, so teeming with eccentricities and contradictions, aroused unquenchable curiosity. Despite many investigations into Shaw's life and art, parts of himparts crucial to understanding
When he died in 1950, Bernard Shaw was a Nobel laureate hailed as the second greatest playwright in the English language. At the same time, his strangely flamboyant personality, so teeming with eccentricities and contradictions, aroused unquenchable curiosity. Despite many investigations into Shaw's life and art, parts of himparts crucial to understanding both man and artisthave remained veiled in secrecy. In this critical biography, Sally Peters explores Shaw's background and beliefs, interests and obsessions, relations with men and women, prose writings and dramatic art. In deciphering the enigma that was Shaw, she uncovers a convoluted and extravagant inner life studded with erotic secrets.
Peters examines the passions of Shaw's lifeeverything from vegetarianism and boxing to socialism and feminismand pieces them together in a new configuration, offering a fresh interpretation of his life and works. Striving unceasingly to ascend, possessed of monumental energy, Shaw was in many ways a dazzling example of his idealized superman. But, says Peters, this superman was also a man haunted by phantoms, a man of gender ambivalences and romantic yearnings, and a man who championed will even while believing that his erotic inclinations were the secret mark of the "born artist." Throughout, he was braced by a resilient comic vision as he transformed his life into enduring art.
Examining Shaw's literary ambitions, his passionate yet finally celibate romanticism, and his ostentatiously ascetic lifestyle, Peters (a visiting scholar at Wesleyan Univ.) ostensibly disavows Freudianism but nonetheless takes up its assumptions of suppressed meanings and motiveswhich only a critic can decipher. Suspicious of the mercurial Shaw, Peters is rightly skeptical about his evasions concerning his shabby-genteel childhood and drunken father, and his protestations of his mother's virtue despite her affair with a Dublin musical impresario. Peters finds in Shaw an ambitious personality given early on to self-deception and dissimulation: a pathologically deluding figure as an embryonic artistic genius in need of a corroborative ideology. The author scrutinizes Shaw's interest in evolution and eugenics in his formulation of his theory of the Life Force and the Superman. She claims the influence on him of sexologists of the periodsuch as Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellistrying to trap Shaw in the paradox that he could not be either artist or degenerate without being both; thus he had to write in code and to adopt eccentrically austere habits, such as vegetarianism and celibacy, to keep himself in check. Although Peters selectively cites Shaw's diaries and correspondence as reflections of his interior struggle, she renders her argument in either windy rhetoricShaw's "ethereal" vs. his "fiery" natures, his masculine/dynamic vs. his feminine/passive aspectsor gender-criticism jargon, e.g., her critique of his epistolary love affair with Ellen Terry.
Riding the current academic hobbyhorses, including gender reversal and "the gaze," Peters offers a rhetorically overloaded version of Shaw's life and work.
- Yale University Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- New Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)
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