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  • Bernard Shaw's Joyriding in Germany and Austria:A Politics of Cultural Internationalism
  • Hannes Schweiger (bio)

Bernard Shaw's name was on the list of celebrities whom Bertha von Suttner, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and pacifist, planned to invite to an international peace congress that was to take place in Vienna in 1914. On 21 September 1913, Suttner wrote a letter to Alfred Hermann Fried, another protagonist of the peace movement, outlining her idea for the congress: "Exceptional people from abroad should be invited, celebrities who are not members of any [peace] society, but who are world-famous: Anatole France, Bernard Shaw—Gerhart Hauptmann and others like them. I would write letters to convince them. They would have to speak in favour of pacifism—nothing literary."1 The peace congress did not take place. Instead, World War I broke out, spelling the failure of efforts by activists all over Europe to propagate peace and prevent the impending war. What would Bertha von Suttner have heard from Shaw at this conference? Why did she invite him? He was certainly not a pacifist, despite his assertion on 1 January 1914: "I want international peace."2 He rejected disarmament and criticized pacifists for their naïveté and their shortsighted perspective on international politics. Once the war had begun, he argued that it had to be fought as well as possible, with the aim of winning.3 Focusing on Shaw's political texts and comments written shortly before, during, and after World War I, which were published in German at the time, I will focus in this article on the following questions: What was Shaw's position in the German and Austrian cultural field with regard to international cultural relations, particularly in light of increasing [End Page 153] Anglo-German antagonism in the political sphere? How was Shaw perceived in the German-speaking world during the war? In what respect did his critique of British foreign policy and war policy influence the reception of his plays and his position within the contemporary literary and intellectual scene? What was the response in the media and among writers and intellectuals in Germany and Austria to Shaw's writings on war and peace? By examining these questions it should be possible to gain a clearer picture of Shaw's image in German-speaking Europe and of the interplay between the reception of his dramatic works and his nondramatic, political writings.

Had Shaw been able to take part in an international peace congress in 1914, he would probably have proposed his panacea for peace: a triple entente among Germany, Britain, and France based on the mutual threat that in the case of one of these countries attacking another, the third would intervene on behalf of the victim. This entente would be expanded to include many other Western and Northern European countries, so that war would become virtually impossible because none of the countries involved would dare to attack any other country. Shaw suggested this strategy on various occasions: for example, during a meeting with the German ambassador in Britain, Prince Lichnowsky, on 24 February 1913, which Count Harry Kessler describes in his diary.4 According to Kessler, Shaw had proposed: "Now look here, what you have got to do as German Ambassador in London is to prepare a new Triple Alliance between Germany, England and France and to make this the basis of the Peace of the world. Other countries should be told, that War will henceforth be considered as a sort of nuisance and that if anybody embarks on it, this Triple Alliance will call him to book."5 Lichnowsky confided to Kessler after Shaw had left that the latter was "very witty, but as a politician he can't be taken seriously." Kessler had a slightly different point of view and argued that "there is always some truth lurking behind Shaw's paradoxes, or at least a pertinent negation."6

Lichnowsky was not the only one who did not take Shaw seriously as a commentator on politics and on the threat of war. Karl Kraus, one of the most prominent Austrian intellectuals at the beginning of the twentieth century and a fierce and indefatigable critic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 153-167
Launched on MUSE
2008-12-24
Open Access
No
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