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  • More Shaw on the Great War
  • Stanley Weintraub (bio)
J. L. Wisenthal and Daniel O'Leary , eds. What Shaw Really Wrote about the War. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. xxv + 310 pp. Index. $55.00.

The German blitz in 1940 destroyed warehouse stocks of many volumes of Shaw's collected edition, including What I Wrote about the War—his assembly, [End Page 230] with a narrative framework, of published screeds from 1914-19. Shavians without it are hereby advised to search out secondhand copies, as the new volume in the Shaw Series is not what G.B.S. really wrote about the war but mostly what did not see print during the war.

The major overlap is the lengthy, controversial manifesto Common Sense about the War, which appeared in the New Statesman (NS) late in 1914 and then in pamphlet form. In reprint it takes up 20 percent of the new book. After Shaw was attacked for insufficient jingoism by a plethora of patriots, including close political and literary colleagues, he renewed his attack on the idiocy of the conflict with More Common Sense about the War. NS, although Shaw was on its editorial board and had helped finance its beginnings, timidly declined to publish it. A few pages from the text were subsequently printed in NS during 1915, but its first full publication has awaited this volume. It runs to ninety pages—about a third of the text. A few additional reprintings from Shaw's own What I Wrote volume appear, including "Joy Riding at the Front," his dispatches to the London Daily Chronicle in 1917, which I included in the second volume of Shaw: An Autobiography in 1970.

An additional relatively new piece—about thirty often personal pages—also extracted in the Autobiography, is "What I Said in the Great War." It was drafted in 1918 as a preface to a planned collection of wartime writings Shaw did not publish. It was too soon. In the first year after the war, his target date, passions would not yet have cooled. He conceded his "destiny [was] to have to choose between making myself intensely unpopular at home, and making England seem ridiculous, hypocritical and treacherous in the eyes of the neutrals whose respect and friendship was of vital importance . . . and of enemies eagerly seeking for testimony against her." Modern war, he asserted, was not "a tournament of knights from the risks of which women and children and civilians are exempt." The nine decades since have tragically substantiated that.

The third largely new piece, completing the new book, is Shaw's 1919 preface to the French edition of his Peace Conference Hints, which never appeared. None of the conferees, in any case, would have accepted his unsolicited advice.

Years ago, Gordon N. Bergquist of Creighton University in Nebraska, author of The Pen and the Sword: War and Peace in the Prose and Plays of Bernard Shaw (1977), asked the Shaw Estate—so it informed me, as author of Journey to Heartbreak, about Shaw's embattled Great War years—for permission to collect and publish all of Shaw's wartime nonfiction from 1914 through 1918, as well as the postwar preface for France. Bergquist's project failed to materialize. Ailing, he died in December 1999. A comprehensive edition of all Shavian Great War journalism is now unlikely.

Although the new book is misleadingly mistitled, its considerable value [End Page 231] is in supplementing the earlier What I Wrote about the War with about 150 pages of additional, related writings. For that we are indebted to the editors, J. L. Wisenthal and Daniel O'Leary. Canada seems to breed Shaw scholars! Perhaps another Canadian will collect Shaw's many unpublished letters on the war. One, to an addressee unknown to me, dated in January 1918, and plucked from a sale catalog, declares contrarily, "Nothing connected with a war should ever be commemorated. A war is a great wound which should be healed up and skinned over as completely as possible. It leaves real scars enough without painting on artificial ones. . . . Nobody but a fiend will want to recollect this bloody business ten years hence." Still another volume might mine his plays...


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