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Windham Croft in Sussex, where Shaw conceived much of his Heartbreak House. The rooftop television aerial came later. Curtains Speech: A New Source for Heartbreak House Stanley Weintraub Pennsylvania State University THE MYSTERIES of creativity are many, and Shavian creativity remains a mine of surprises, Heartbreak House one of the most inexhaustible of them. Long evident is that if Shaw had writer's block about its completion, the breakthrough came when on the night of 1 October 1916 the Zeppelin L-31 was downed in flames over Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, within sight of Ayot St. Lawrence.1 The raid gave Shaw not only his ending, but one of the last lines of dialogue. In a letter about the episode to Beatrice and Sidney Webb (5 October 1916) Shaw had frankly confided his own feelings, still caught up in the excitement of the experience, "What is hardly credible, but true, is that the sound of the Zepp's engines was so fine, and its voyage through the stars so enchanting, that I positively caught myself hoping next night that there would be another raid." The sensation was given to Hesione Hushabye, who sighs, rejecting the reality of deaths, "But what a glorious experience! I hope theyll come again tomorrow night." "Radmnt at the prospect," in Shaw's stage directions, Ellie Dunn agrees, Oh, I hope so." Even before Shaw had written the first words of the first act, on 4 March 1916,2 it is now apparent, the seeds of the last scene had been sown in his subconscious. The air raid warning has come to Captain Shotover's house by telephone, and with it the injunction to douse all lights. "Who put that light out? Who dared put that light out?" Hector Hushabye growls. A prophet of decadent civilization's doom, he is eager for the visitation. 497 The terrace at Windham Croft, turned by Shaw into the third-act setting for Heartbreak House. SHAW : WEINTRAUB "The police," Nurse Guinness runs out of the house to the terrace to explain, "have telephoned to say we'll be summoned if we don't put that light out: it can be seen for miles." "It shall be seen for a hundred miles," Hector insists, and he dashes indoors to reverse all the switches. Quickly the terrace lamp goes on, and as the Zeppelin closes in, with the denizens of Heartbreak House now "in wild excitement," Nurse Guinness looks up at Hector's defiant risk-taking and exclaims, "It's Mr Hushabye turning on all the lights in the house and tearing down the curtains." A bomb comes down and explodes, and, while socialite bureaucrat Randall Utterword plays "Keep the Home Fires Buring" on his flute, the home fires literally burn. Less than three weeks before Shaw began the play, on 15 February 1916, he had postcarded publisher Fisher Unwin from Ayot St. Lawrence about the Shavian town residence just below the Strand, in which Unwin was a neighbor: Since the Zeppelin scare began I have boasted that Adelphi Terrace is the most brilliantly lighted spot in London. The extra illumination is welcome in times of peace as some slight check on the tendency to treat the terrace as a public urinal at night; but except for this we could get on quite well without the two centre lamps; and you may quote me as being of this opinion if you take any further steps. I have not taken any myself, having a mulish objection to allow the risk to put me out of my normal course in the smallest degree. I do not understand why the Huns do not use parachute flares to light up their work without being lit up themselves. I suppose they will presently, and then we may as well turn up all our lights and tear down all our blinds.3 Hector Hushabye as a character may be compounded out of flamboyant adventurers Shaw knew, such as Robert Cunninghame Graham, Wilfrid Blunt and Hubert Bland, but the epistolary G.B.S., whether or not the playwright recognized himself, was also part of the recipe. Coincidentally, there would be a lamplit terrace at a country house that would...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 497-500
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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