"Tho' with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been to arrive where I am." So Bernard Shaw quoted Valiant-for-Truth, "with his foot on the brink of the river," from John Bunyan's |The Pilgrim's Progress|, in a letter to the actress Elizabeth Robins. It was the 1890s. G.B.S. was on the brink of fame.
He had overcome limited schooling, Irish origins, unemployment and near-poverty, and a series of false starts as a writer, but he resolved to succeed on his own terms. He abandoned a striking "Passion Play" in Shakespearean blank verse. He conceded that the first of his failed novels was titled |Immaturity| "with merciless fitness."
The British Museum Reading Room became his university. He taught himself everything from Pitman shorthand to books, music, and the arts—becoming in succession the leading music critic in England, then the leading drama critic. His goal was the stage itself. All that he wrote would be fodder for his theatrical future. His first completed play, |Widowers' Houses|, ran only two performances, but he knew he was on his way.
Stanley Weintraub’s latest book evokes Bernard Shaw's formative decades as novelist, diarist, polemicist, memoirist, critic of music and the arts, and aspiring playwright. The fourteen segments about Shaw’s pre-playwright beginnings (from “Passion Without ‘Passion’: Shaw’s Abortive Jesus Play” to “Shaw Becomes a Playwright: July–December 1892”) have been written and edited over more than half a century. When not completely new they are much augmented. Readers of Shaw will appreciate having them updated and available together in this new volume.