Penn State University Press

[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]

On 22 October 1986 the Los Angeles Times announced, “SHAW LETTERS GONE: 46 Rare Items Missing at Cal State Fullerton.”

Gathered in a scrapbook along with two photographs, a note, and a poem, the letters, twenty in all, were none other than most of Shaw’s lively epistles to Alice Lockett, the frustrating object of his first adult love affair. Their residence at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), where [End Page 137] they were the rarest and most prized of its library’s special collections, had been a phenomenon hardly noticed by the press, but their disappearance made them sensational.

The previous June, special collections librarian Sharon Perry, noticing that several special collection items were missing, inventoried 250,000 others and discovered the Shaw loss in short order. The fact that four months lapsed before this was publicly acknowledged suggests turmoil behind the scenes. Declaring the letters “irreplaceable,” acting head librarian Robert Emry remained baffled: “I don’t even know if they are stolen. It is possible the items are misplaced, but not probable.” He explained that scholars gained access to special collections’ locked quarters only through a library official, so it would be very difficult to slip out with a rare document.

But to slip out with forty-six books, including a scrapbook? . . . Mr. Emry “declined to say” whether the municipal police department had been notified.

Once the cat was out of the bag, however, salvation came rapidly. Just two weeks later, the Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported that all the missing works had been returned via mail, in good condition, although the university’s name had been erased from each. The campus police captain “declined to say” if the package had a return address or a postmark, but Mr. Emry commented that making the matter public “may have contributed to the works being returned.”

While the disappearance has been resolved, its mystery has not. At least librarian Perry reports it is still a mystery to her, although she has implemented steps to improve security. Meanwhile, this case reflects concerns of many of her counterparts here and abroad: as special collections have become increasingly valuable, effective security for them needs to be sensitively balanced with their convenience for scholars, and scholar-friendly security systems (like this one) deserve warm appreciation.

Cal State Fullerton’s acquisition of the Dwight V. Strong collection was an extraordinary coup for the campus. Distinct from the nine-campus University of California, the huge state university system to which Fullerton belongs does not normally enjoy research status. Yet it has many fine scholars. CSUF, located in northern Orange County southeast of downtown Los Angeles, has over 25,000 students, numerous masters degree programs, and a library enriched by a committed group of patrons.

In 1981, in conjunction with the Patrons of the Library, English Professor June Pollak (now an emerita and president of the Patrons) was instrumental in arranging for the Dwight Strong gift. Strong, the senior vice president of a San Francisco insurance brokerage, had parlayed his attraction to Shaw into a substantial collection of Shavian materials. Now moving on to other interests, he sought an institution that might maintain [End Page 138] these as a coherent unit. Celebrating the gift, Pollak observed that “A beautiful, personal collection is not usually helpful for research at the graduate level. But this one is.”

“Beautiful personal collection” aptly describes this one. Nice to possess and possibly of interest to some CSUF faculty and graduate students, but of marginal use to most Shaw scholars, are seventeen autographed works by Shaw, most of them presentation copies; nineteen proofs/rehearsal copies of his plays; and over four hundred other published items including many first editions, rare editions, a collection of magazine articles, a 1946 Birthday Ode to Shaw (with his comments), a 26 December 1905 Ellen Terry letter to him (not in their published Correspondence), a 1929 Malvern Festival Souvenir Illustrated Program, with forty-three autographs and related pieces, an engraved and autographed portrait of him, and a 1930 newspaper advertisement in which he is addressed as a prominent person, with his autograph rebuttal.

More enticing to most scholars is the relatively small collection of letters, postcards, and manuscript materials, among which the Lockett letters stand out. The initial highlighting and subsequent theft of these provide one measure of their value. Upon their return, the Herald Examiner first seized upon the head librarian’s valuation of all forty-six missing items—Shavian and non-Shavian—as $13,000, but then the reporter revealed that a Professor Charles “Burst” estimated $25,000 for the Lockett letters alone. In putting a price on the priceless, “Burst” was clearly a cynic. More reliable as to their value in the Shavian scheme of things is Dan Laurence’s decision to give the Lockett letters more than a fourth of the space he allotted to Shaw’s epistolary output up to 1885 in Collected Letters 1874–1897. Given Laurence’s Lockett entries, most scholars may not need Fullerton, but up to the time of his volume (1965) he had to rely largely on transcriptions, and some scholars or punctilious punctuators may long to peruse the originals or to check their exclamation marks. In any event, they are a visual treasure.

To many, next in importance to the Lockett letters and, at one page, as short as their fifty-two pages are lengthy, may be the fun of a typed and signed playlet, titled “The Man Who Stands No Nonsense: A Drama,” dated 19 February 1904. Enclosed with a letter to George F. Gladstone, Election Committee Secretary for the Progressives when Shaw was running as Progressive candidate for the London County Council, the playlet satirizes the over-zealousness of a partisan, depicting his officious intimidation of voters at the polling station. This has recently appeared, with an introduction, in Unpublished Shaw (SHAW 16), yet for scholars interested in Shaw’s political campaigns, the Strong collection contains fourteen of his unpublished postcards and letters to Gladstone.

On theatrical and writing matters the collection includes eleven unpublished [End Page 139] letters and postcards of 1896–1916 to Frederick Whelen, a Fabian who founded the Stage Society in 1898. Particularly mentioned are productions of Captain Brassbound’s Conversion, and Caesar and Cleopatra, the organization of the Stage Society, finances, publishing (“It is nearly twenty years since my first published book appeared; but I have never seen a book of mine in a shop”), and the idea of adapting his plays to cinema (“my general impression is that I could write at least two, and probably three new plays in the time it would take me to fool over a film”). Less consequential are four postcards and letters to Allan Wade from 1921 to 1923, commenting on production details of Heartbreak House, John Bull’s Other Island, and Saint Joan.

Nineteen items listed as “The [Stephen] Winsten Papers” also have little of note except for three good biographical reminiscences by Shaw: two about his old friend Henry Salt, and a tribute to his deceased wife. More interesting to most scholars will be several items among miscellaneous correspondence, which totals fifteen letters and eleven notes or postcards. An early letter (1892) discusses nudity and sexuality in statues and life: “I am not at all singular in being much more offended by prudery than by frankness in such matters.” Others observe that he prefers to wield a pick on the soul via the stage rather than through journalism (1912), that he probably ruined Upton Sinclair’s chances for a Nobel Prize by recommending him (1933), and that modern science should be criticized more than the Bible (1939). Two fine letters, one to Naomi Mitchison about the Nobel (1933), and the other to Dr. Julius Gold about analyzing music (1949), have been published (CL 4: 358 and 846–48).

So far just one addition has been made to the Strong collection since its presentation ceremony in November 1981. To further celebrate the gift, the Patrons of the Library and Department of Theatre sponsored a colloquium of well-known Shaw scholars, which was videotaped on 29 December 1982. Introduced by moderator June Pollak were Elsie Adams, Sidney Albert, Charles Berst, Arthur Ganz, Dan Laurence, Rodelle Weintraub, and Stanley Weintraub, discussing the significance of the Strong Collection and occasionally taking off on tangents related to the occasion. So now the videotape itself has become a part of the library’s resource for future scholars curious about these old time Shavians.

All in all, in Michelin terms the Strong Collection may not merit a “journey” in itself, but for dedicated Shaw scholars it could well be worth a “detour,” especially when one’s children are indulging in Disneyland seven miles to the south.

Related Articles:

Some Principal Shaw Research Sources

Charles A. Berst

Charles Berst, Professor of English at UCLA and member of the SHAW editorial board, is author of Bernard Shaw and the Art of Drama and editor of SHAW 1: Shaw and Religion. His most recent book is Pygmalion: Shaw’s Spin on Myth and Cinderella.

For information: The Dwight V. Strong Collection of George Bernard Shaw

(Special Collections Librarian, Sharon Perry), Paulina June & George Pollak Library, California State University, Fullerton, P.O. Box 4150, North State College Boulevard, Fullerton, CA 92834; phone: (714) 278-3444; fax: (714) 278-2439; e-mail: sperry@fullerton.edu

Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Launched on MUSE
2001-09-01
Open Access
No
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