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George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1925

Award: "for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty."

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Biography

Biography by Gillian Devine

George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1856, into a poor but reasonably contented family, or what was called “genteel poverty” at the time. He was initially taught by a clerical uncle and later by a regular school but He had trouble with formal education from an early age, however still showed promise. The influence of his family was important to his shaping as a person, both through his uncle and through his mother who bestowed a love and knowledge of art, music and literature. Having briefly worked in an office he moved to London, following his mother and the music teacher who had stayed often at his home in Dublin, to establish a different type of career, first as a music and theatre critic and then as a novelist, albeit an unsuccessful one, and renowned member of the Fabian Society. Due in large part to the influence of playwright Henrik Ibsen, Shaw made a move into playwriting himself, which showed signs of controversy from the very beginning. Widower’s Houses and Mrs. Warren’s Profession are early examples of the fiercest social criticism he was prone to making, and overall his canon of work would shape the new image of the English stage. Both the daring subject matter, in the aforementioned plays, and in works such as Saint Joan (1923) he uplifts the subject from the middle ages and places it into a contemporary setting. The greatest success Shaw had with a play was with Pygmalion (1912), although it was the acclaim for Saint Joan which would ultimately earn him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925. But true to his socialist personality, Shaw accepted the award but refused the money. Shaw would continue to be an extremely prolific playwright until his death in Hertfordshire in 1950.

Interesting Facts

Despite living in poverty as a child, George Bernard Shaw enjoyed more music during his childhood than many people at the time would have in their entire lives, due to a music teacher, who was a friend of the family, spending long periods living and playing music in their home. Although he would become an acclaimed playwright, Shaw suffered immense failure when attempting to become a novelist, with his last attempt at a novel, “An Unfinished Novel”, not being released until 1958, seventy years after it had been written. Shaw’s popularity temporarily declined during WWI, when he wrote the play “Common Sense”, which was deemed unpatriotic, but his reputation would recover again with the sheer quality of plays he subsequently wrote. Shaw was a vegetarian for most of his life, due to his strong conscience, which was highly unusual at the time.

Further reading

George Bernard Shaw: His Life and Words, A Critical Biography (Authorized), Archibald Henderson, 2015
George Bernard Shaw: A Biography, G. C. Chesterton, 1909
A Study Guide for George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2015

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Shaw
George Bernard Shaw Photo Wikimedia Commons

Name: George Bernard Shaw
Birth: 26 July 1856, Dublin, Ireland
Death: 2 November 1950, Ayot St. Lawrence, United Kingdom
Residence at the time of the award: United Kingdom
Prize motivation: "for his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty."
Portion of Cash: 1/1
Biography
Pygmalion/My Fair Lady
Medal Cash and Charity
Quotations