Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Major Barbara  -  1905
George Bernard Shaw
96 pages
genre   -  play
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

At the beginning of the play, Lady Undershaft has asked her adult son, Stephen, to join her in the library to consult with him on an important issue.  Should she ask her estranged husband for more funds for him and his two younger sisters who are engaged to penniless (comparatively) men? 

You see, Mr. Undershaft has an unusual profession: he deals in warfare.  Stephen complains to his mother: "I have hardly ever opened a newspaper in my life without seeing our name in it.  The Undershaft torpedo! The Undershaft quick firers! The Undershaft ten inch! the Undershaft disappearing rampart gun! the Undershaft submarine! and now the Undershaft aerial battleship!"

This play is a wonderful selection for a book club to read and discuss.  There is so much going on.  You could debate about so many things: Barbara and the Salvation Army, inheritances, values, the power of money, and the qualities needed to be a politician.  Which brings me to my favorite quote in the book:  "He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything.  That points clearly to a political career."

About the Author  -

George Bernard Shaw was born in Synge Street, Dublin, on 26 July 1856 to George Carr Shaw, an unsuccessful grain merchant and sometime civil servant, and Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly Shaw, a professional singer.

Shaw briefly attended the Wesley College, Dublin, a grammar school operated by the Methodist Church in Ireland, before moving to a private school near Dalkey and then transferring to Dublin's Central Model School. He ended his formal education at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School.

Influenced by his reading, he became a dedicated socialist and a charter member of the Fabian Society, a middle class organization established in 1884 to promote the gradual spread of socialism by peaceful means.

In the course of his political activities he met Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and fellow Fabian; they married in 1898. The marriage was never consummated, at Charlotte's insistence, though he had a number of affairs with married women.

Shaw's plays were first performed in the 1890s. By the end of the decade he was an established playwright. He wrote sixty-three plays and his output as novelist, critic, pamphleteer, essayist and private correspondent was prodigious.

Shaw died at the age of 94, of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred by falling while pruning a tree. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife, were scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

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