Penn State University Press

The Translators

When Bernard Shaw serialized four of his novels in London journals in 1884–88 and issued two of them as books in 1886–87, he became prey to literary pirates. British copyright law, under the Literary Copyright Act of 1842, guaranteed him exclusive rights to his work for the remainder of his life plus seven years, or forty-two years from publication if longer. Beyond this there was virtually no protection. In 1838 Britain had passed an International Copyright Act, which proved impotent as a hindrance to American entrepreneurial spoilers who published, for their sole profit, hundreds of thousands of unauthorized copies of novels by Dickens, Trollope, and Eliot, and offered, equally profitably, thousands of unauthorized performances of the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan and the previous season’s London theater successes.

The first significant effort toward international copyright protection was provided, in 1886, by the Berne Convention, which invited membership in a union of nations that guaranteed to foreign nationals either the literary and moral rights granted to them in their own countries, or the same rights as those of the natives of the treaty countries involved. Although the Berne covenant, ratified by Great Britain on 5 September 1887, and by Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, among major nations, offered Shaw a modicum of protection for his novels through a ten-year translation privilege from date of publication, the Americans (whose government [End Page 177] spurned the Convention) continued to delve profitably into his stockpile of early writings.

Shaw seemed undisturbed by the circumstance, rejecting offers of remuneration, as in the remarkable statement in 1902 to a Danish educator and philosopher Oscar Hansen, written eighteen months before Denmark ratified the Convention: “As Denmark has no copyright treaty with Eng-

land, I have no consent to give and no rights to sell. . . . I am bound in honor not to accept payment for rights that do not exist. . . . [A]s far as I am concerned, Denmark is heartily welcome to my works; and you need have no hesitation in taking the fullest advantage of the existing state of the law” (CL 2: 258–9).

Although he could have availed himself of the several other European markets that had opened to him, Shaw did not do so. Instead, he became even more indifferent to his derelict works—in excess of a million unclaimed words—when Great Britain, in 1893, signed the Austria-Hungary Convention with the Austrian Reichsrath, Bohemia, and Hungary, in which the ten-year translation privilege was sustained.

One doesn’t have to search far for a motivation for Shaw’s attitude. Virtually every page in his diaries from 1885 to 1897 exposes graphically the enormous pressures of journalistic, political, and dramatic commitments with which his days and nights were crammed. For nearly a dozen years he employed all the delaying tactics he could conjure up to counter the mounting appeals from France, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Norway, and Sweden for license to translate. At the heart of this was a tormenting fear that translation would make demands on him that he could not afford. In the time it required to revise the work of his translators, he frequently reminded correspondents, he could devise a dozen more plays of his own.

Why, then, did he precipitately succumb in 1902 to the blandishments of the young Austrian, Siegfried Trebitsch (1868–1956)?

Well, for one thing, he was not immune to flattery. To the contrary, he was acutely in need of it, for, beneath the arrogant self-created public image that disconcerted and sometimes infuriated auditors and readers, there was deeply ingrained insecurity and self-doubt, to such an extent that for some eighteen months he had built a fortifying card file of some two dozen Shavian “disciples.” To be informed by a dashing, effervescent, thirty-three year old similitude of Sergius Saranoff (with the added touch of the requisite Teutonic saber scar) that it was his intention to be Shaw’s “interpreter and apostle in Central Europe” must have been stimulating to the ego. A quarter of a century later, in Shaw’s translator’s note for the play Jitta’s Atonement that he had freely adapted from a drama by Trebitsch in 1920–21, Shaw described the initial meeting rhapsodically: “I did what I could to dissuade him from what seemed a desperate undertaking, but [End Page 178] his faith in my destiny was invincible. I surrendered at discretion.” Trebitsch, late in life, in an autobiography,1 recalled that there was “a thin crust of embitterment that covered the real character of the underestimated writer . . . the faint mistrust that a lonely man feels for the approval and admiration that he prefers to consider a misunderstanding until he knows the source from which they come” (CPr 2: 549).

Trebitsch could not, however, have been privy to the motivations that led Shaw to capitulate to the extraordinary offer. It was for Shaw a moment he’d arrived at after nearly four years of worrying circumstance, which commenced with the crippling ailment that had led to his marriage, and which had been followed by an economic evaporation that had reached crisis proportions. With eleven plays behind him, not one of them a full-fledged success in Britain, he was at this instant almost totally dependent on his wife’s income. There was no longer any journalism to fall back on, nor any theater royalties, his last substantial earning having been the £482 received for performances of Johnston Forbes-Robertson’s autumn 1900 tour of The Devil’s Disciple. The banned Mrs Warren’s Profession, tested by the Stage Society with two private performances in January 1902, had been lambasted by the reviewers, with William Archer carping that Shaw “could not touch pitch” artistically “without wallowing in it”; Max Beerbohm opining that Shaw’s philosophy “rests . . . on a profound ignorance of human nature”; J. T. Grein grumbling that Shaw had “merely philandered around a dangerous subject.”2 Moreover, quite disturbingly, he had virtually vanished from the lecture platform, with speaking engagements dwindling to five in 1901 and two in the first quarter of 1902.

Another significant factor not to be overlooked in assessing the influences was that Trebitsch’s native tongue was the one with which Shaw had the most familiarity, although only for reading. When asked, he tended to deprecate his knowledge of the language, but conceded to Julius Bab, “I can generally manage to make out the sense of the letter in German provided it is written in Latin script.”3 Shaw’s Diaries provide much evidence that he strove to master the tongue, entering a resolution on 5 February 1885 “to learn German at last,” to which end he purchased exercise books and made a start at the British Museum in Heinrich Ollendorff’s New Method of Learning to Read, Write, and Speak the German Language (London, 1838–41), 2 vols. His studies were furthered in August “by reading [with Sidney Webb] the second volume of Das Kapital.” The sessions were sporadic and erratic (on 1 September he did some Ollendorff on the train [End Page 179] “and overshot my station in consequence”). His overall approach, he lamented, was “desultory.” Although he worked through Ollendorff from end to end, progress was negligible. He tried setting up a timetable for study in 1887; the results did not improve.

At last, in 1891, making the acquaintance of an attractive young tutor, Hedwig Sonntag, he cosseted her into a relationship in which he entered her class as a non-paying student and stayed on to share supper with her and a sister. In July he turned up at Hedwig’s seventeen times; another dozen visits were made in August before the romantic relationship terminated. The studies continued more conventionally in 1892, with Shaw paying for several series of courses, on the FranÀ’Àois Gouin system (L’Art d’enseigner et d’étudier les langues, Paris, 1880), offered by P. Drabig, a tutor on the faculty of the Institute of Languages.4 Before Shaw parted company with Drabig in July 1894 he was entertained by his tutor with a reading of a translation of Arms and the Man, the first known translation of a Shaw play.

Now, seven and a half years later, an “echt Wiener Junger” was negotiating for translation rights, and by the end of the year Trebitsch would translate three of Shaw’s plays for book publication and a fourth, The Devil’s Disciple, for performance in Vienna in February 1903. It would be the first Shaw work to be performed in German and would come under heavy assault by a rat pack led by a pedantic scholar and philologist, Dr. Leon Kellner, whom Archer had in 1898 provided with an introduction to Shaw. In a meeting at Haslemere Kellner paraded impressive credentials as critic, author, translator, and pedagogue, and expressed a desire to translate Candida and perhaps one or two other plays. Shaw, determined to find a young man prepared to offer exclusive devotion to the entire canon, declined the pick-and-choose offer. Five years later, when Shaw’s approved candidate offered his first translation, at the Raimund Theater, Vienna, on 25 February 1903, Kellner retaliated for supposed slights with two merciless assaults on Trebitsch in the Viennese and Frankfurt press in January and March.

Although some of the Viennese reviewers were generous in their evaluations of the production they were outvoiced by a clamorous cabal, of which Kellner was kingpin, that puffed its own merits by deflating the accomplishments of the newly successful, and that had a decidedly negative effect on boxoffice. One of their number, Max Meyerfeld, a German literary critic, had the effrontery not only to pay a call on Shaw in London to offer a devastating report of Trebitsch’s ineptitude, but to propose himself as Trebitsch’s replacement. There was nothing unusual about such behavior: it went with the territory, as Archer had discovered when he published his [End Page 180] translations of Ibsen: underpaid covetous rivals venting resentments and jealousies in widely circulated invidious remarks. “It is always the same song,” Shaw condoled in a letter to Trebitsch years later; “Trebitsch, Vallentin, Brouta, Hevesi, Hamon, Agresti are all infamous imposters: how can I possibly allow my works to be so horribly misrepresented?” (SLT 208).

Not that there wasn’t some veracity to the cabal’s criticism. Even with Shaw’s sacrifice of long hours of labor perusing the manuscripts for gaffes, abetted by a bulky Muret-Sanders dictionary, Trebitsch’s English language limitations, combined with the speed of his work, led to a plethora of blunders that Shaw could not by any manner or means ameliorate. “He thinks that reluctantly means resolutely, emphatically pathetically (with amazing results on my stage directions),” Shaw informed his theater colleague R. Vernon Harcourt. To Archer he reported, “I described the manners of one of the characters [in The Doctor’s Dilemma] as ‘propitiatory.’ Trebitsch’s version of this is ‘eigentümlich!’ [‘peculiar to’; ‘odd’].”5

Unlike the sensitive Trebitsch, who was devastated by the cabal’s tactics, the unflappable Shaw reacted by not reacting. The arbiters, he knew, would be audience and boxoffice managers: he was prepared to wait for the verdict. Eighteen months later, after The Devil’s Disciple, in substantially the same translation, had been staged in Berlin to respectful notices and solid attendance, culminating in a run of twenty-one performances (a most satisfactory engagement for a work by an unfamiliar foreign dramatist), Shaw was mollified. The plays, he would subsequently remind Trebitsch, “seem to please the German public, and make money for me . . .” (SLT 208).

The plays, indeed, commenced almost immediately to turn an impressive profit. On 17 October 1902 Trebitsch’s first submission of fees, half the advance on The Devil’s Disciple in Vienna, amounted to £12 (300 Kronen). By 1904 Shaw’s German income rose to £144, nearly doubling in 1905 to £266, and in 1906 almost re-doubling to £513. By the outbreak of war in August 1914 Shaw’s secretary had posted payments for that year from Trebitsch totaling £1975, including productions of twelve of Shaw’s plays.6 This alone was justification for Shaw’s description of Trebitsch as “my partner” and (to the publisher William Heinemann in December 1905) “a perfect jewel.” Defending Trebitsch against his critics in a preface to a German edition of Shaw’s Dramatische Werke (1911), Shaw concluded, “[T]here is no man in Europe to whom I am more deeply indebted or with [End Page 181] whom I feel happier in all our relations whether of business, or art, or of personal honor and friendship” (CPr 1: 344).

If Shaw’s choice in a German translator had been a wise one, quite the opposite would have to be said for the next. As Paris, along with London and Berlin, was one of the three leading theater cities in Europe, it was inevitable that Shaw would focus his attention on a French translator. The man Shaw selected, Augustin Hamon (1862–1945), was a French anarchist, founder and editor of a radical journal L’Humanité Nouvelle, whom Shaw had met in London in the mid-1890s. They corresponded occasionally (in French, despite the somewhat startling awkwardness of Shaw’s “style Irlandais,” as Hamon had only a smattering of English); and Shaw had allowed Hamon to publish one of his polemics in a translation by Henriette Rynenbroeck (1870–1964), who in 1901 became Madame Hamon.

In discussing choices of translator to a colleague Henry Arthur Jones in July 1908, Shaw explained (in his exaggerative manner), “Sometimes the men came of their own accord as devoted disciples. Sometimes I picked a man who had never dreamt of the job and hypnotized and subsidized him into it” (Theatrics 89). To Arnold Bennett, at a later date, he claimed that “I beguiled [Hamon] into it.” (CL 2: 933). More than one biographer has charged Shaw with intimidation. What motivation, however, could Shaw have had for so unprofitable an act except that of self-destruction? He was certainly not unaware, after nearly a decade’s acquaintance, of Hamon’s limitations. In Germany Trebitsch had expertly pushed and maneuvered Shaw’s interests; in France Hamon was congenitally incapable of dealing with his own. Despite Shaw’s financial assistance on two occasions he had been unable to keep his journal afloat. His writings and lectures were unremunerated, and, as Shaw found it necessary to remind him, he was unlikely ever to earn a livelihood in avenues he was then pursuing. But as a translator? A business negotiator among theater sharks? This excitable man who was as explosive as touchwood, churlish, testy, obstinate, utterly devoid of a sense of humor!

We have frequently been told that Hamon’s approach to Shaw was merely a courtesy for a young acquaintance he wished to assist, and that when Shaw rejected the young man’s appeal for rights to Man and Superman (a play never performed in France during Shaw’s lifetime) and appointed Hamon to the task, the unsuspecting gull was “dumbfounded” or “astounded” or “stupefied” (depending on which biographer you have been reading). Surviving correspondence suggests another scenario.7 [End Page 182]

A Shaw letter of 25 January 1904 indicates that it was Hamon, not Shaw, who initiated the question of a collaboration, one in which Hamon proposed that the young man be taken on as a partner by Hamon and his wife. It is Shaw who, in the letter, cautions Hamon that not only are collaborations unprofitable, but that single-handed commissions too often are inadequately remunerative to be worth taking on. Dissuading Hamon from Man and Superman, a reading rather than an acting play, he casually and cordially suggests that, to accommodate Hamon, he will be amenable to a choice of one or two of the seven pleasant and unpleasant plays, or to The Devil’s Disciple, or Caesar and Cleopatra (H). There is no mention of any further commitment, and it is difficult to see how one can be “hypnotized” by correspondence.

Now it was Hamon’s move. Up to this moment he had apparently been angling for urgently needed sources of income, such as a small pay-off by the young friend if and when Shaw went for the bait. One assumes he approached the decision with trepidation, being by nature a diffident man; but also with the French equivalent of twelve pounds sterling dangling before his eyes, not to mention the probable pressure from his wife, the practical Madame (with several mouths at home to feed) and with (according to Shaw) an intimate knowledge of English. Henriette, who had sufficient stamina to share with Shaw the experience of surviving to the age of ninety-four, would add the basic translations to her household chores.

Facing up to the disquieting challenge, Hamon grabbed at the twelve pounds, selecting Mrs Warren’s Profession and Candida for his English exercises. Ten months went by before he offered a report of his progress: he had dropped Candida in favor of The Philanderer, but was contemplating substitution of The Devil’s Disciple. Indecision, Shaw would soon learn, was a favorite occupation of the translator. In the same period he had managed to complete an act or two of Mrs Warren’s Profession. Procrastination was another of Hamon’s favorite occupations. By February 1905, still not very productive, Hamon sought anxiously to resolve his predicament by introducing yet another potential partner. This one, a young Russian Jew, had qualifications to flourish: he was a translator of plays of Schnitzler and Hofmannsthal and possessed an impeccable command of the English language. It transpired, too, that he had, without prior authorization, translated Arms and the Man and negotiated a contract for its performance.

“Du tout, du tout, du tout, pas de tout,” Shaw snapped at Hamon. “If [End Page 183] he makes the translation, then of what use are you?” (H, n.d., Feb. 1905). To break the impasse Shaw gallantly offered on 26 February to buy Hamon’s translation of Mrs Warren’s Profession, “right out for a lump sum, and have done with the whole business” (H). Tacked on to this was a palpable face-saver, “If your own literary work is prospering, it will not pay you to trouble about mine. Do not hesitate to say so if that is the case” (H). Hamon elected to go the distance.

There seemed now to be only one way left to resolve the issue. As Shaw had created the situation by a well-intended but mis-advised gesture, his conscience dictated that he make amends by lending a hand to the project. The work at last got under way in earnest, with Shaw, in as many odd moments as he could muster, slaving away at the manuscripts, relying on an old edition of a Spiers dictionary for which he had expended his last ten shillings in 1877. He could not, however, counteract Hamon’s incapacity to capture in the translation Shaw’s style, technique, and manner of wit. The translations could only be described as appalling.

When the manuscripts began to circulate, Shaw received, but disdained, warnings from many English and French colleagues and friends that the Hamon texts were execrable and would seriously damage his reputation. Stubbornly he resisted the advice proffered by leading French managers—Lugné-Poe, André Antoine, Jacques Rouché—men with practical experience in the French theater; and assured the painter Jacques Émile Blanche that it was not the plays that were at fault, but “the ingrained parochialism of France. . . . [M]y time has not yet come in Paris, where they have hardly finished discovering Wagner.”8

Several months later billposters affixed yellow placards to kiosks all across Paris, as an advertisement for Mrs Warren’s Profession, flaunting a translated Shavian comment designed to “annoy somebody, which is the first step towards fame,” and which was printed next day in Comoedia:

Paris is always the last city in the world to discover and accept an author or composer of international reputation. London is twenty-five years behind, and Paris ten years behind London. Paris is a wonderful city, but the Parisians have not yet discovered Paris. It is therefore not very surprising that they have not yet discovered me. Paris will discover me within a dozen years.9

This mordant humor was in keeping with Shaw’s tenet, as communicated to Siegfried Trebitsch in March 1903, that one should “never exhibit [End Page 184] [oneself] to the public as a man with a grievance. Never admit that anything that mortal man can say or write could make the smallest difference to your reputation or to your personal serenity” (SLT 50). In his inability, however, to win respect and approval from the French, he compensated, regrettably, by overconfidence, arrogance, smugness, and rudeness in negotiations with managements, alienating himself from men who could have been of invaluable service to him. And all the vast sums of money he expended for copyright printings, commission publishing, translation fees, and the many generosities (including a 30,000 franc house mortgage and a lifetime annuity), lavished upon Hamon, prompted presumably by a guilt complex, went for naught. Three decades of persistent pressure resulted in a mere baker’s dozen of Parisian productions between 1908 and the start of the second world war, principally in coterie theaters, and (with the single exception of Saint Joan) with abbreviated runs. Candida, the play that had gloriously established his reputation in New York, Berlin, and London, had, to Shaw’s despair, limped through a scant twenty-eight performances and wretched receipts in Paris. He had, in 1909, entertained the specter of this possibility, warning Hamon, “Suppose my plays never succeed. Ibsen’s never did; and nobody supposes that I am a greater man than Ibsen” (H, 28 July 1909).

To Trebitsch in 1939 he admitted wistfully, “I have lost money by France. Thanks to you Germany has been a better bargain” (SLT 386). Whether Trebitsch, in place of Hamon, could have brought success to Shaw in France to the extent that he did in Germany and Central Europe can only be conjectured. What is certain is that Shaw’s intractability and sovereign contempt eradicated any possibility of achieving a Parisian vogue.

When Denmark finally ratified the Berne Convention on 1 July 1903 and Sweden on 1 August 1904, Shaw’s reaction was one of hesitancy. In response to the Swedish actor Harald Thornberg’s application for rights to perform The Man of Destiny, Shaw announced that his plays were not routine commercial stage works: their transformation into a different language and milieu would require much more than the hack adaptations made so often from foreign plays. Rather than dispose of the plays singly, he was determined to have a standard translation for Scandinavia, along the lines of William Archer’s Ibsen translations.10

Only a couple of months earlier, after receiving an ingenuous letter from a young Dane resident in London, expressing a desire to make Shaw’s plays “accessible to my countrymen,”11 Shaw had unhesitatingly bestowed on Jens Martin Borup (1880–1960), a naive 24-year-old, authorization [End Page 185] to test his translation skills with The Man of Destiny. In return Shaw was overwhelmed by a flood of correspondence in which the stripling confessed he had no claim to any consideration as a man of business; that his interest stemmed from an infatuation with literature and theater dialogue; and that a principal failing was his lack of perseverance. Industriously, however, he completed his imposed task, won Shaw’s approval for translation of the entire Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, and by late 1907 Gyldendal of Copenhagen had published a two-volume edition on a commission basis (40% to the author, which he divided with the translator). For the one thousand copies Shaw paid charges of £150.

The translations were indifferently successful. After Borup had attempted a few more plays, including Man and Superman, which underwent an overhauling by a stage director, but succeeded in earning only £56 for Shaw in royalties from a production of Arms and the Man, and relieving Shaw of several times that sum through a loan to stave off the failure of a brother’s photographic company, Borup withdrew from further commitment in November 1913, informing Shaw that he felt he had lost touch with the subtleties of the language, negatively affecting the translations, and would join his sibling in the cinematic photography business. He invited Shaw to “associate financially with [the] enterprise”12 but Shaw appears to have had his fill of the Danes, for he did not appoint a successor.

More of a bargain was Hugo Vallentin (1860–1921), Shaw’s next acquisition. Appointed by Shaw in 1906, Vallentin was editor of the Stockholm satirical journal Puck and an accomplished journalist. Although he had no theater background, he was a man of sharp wit and erudition, who attained a mastery of his adopted language through an American wife. In 1908 he settled in London, where he became press officer of the Swedish legation and an effective diplomatist. As his residence was in John Street, adjacent to Shaw’s flat in Adelphi Terrace, they conferred frequently, and Vallentin had no difficulty in completing his copyright commitment and seeing the volumes through the press (also on commission, through A. Bonnier of Stockholm) by early 1908. His proximity to Shaw in London led to a gradual taking over of a number of business responsibilities as Shaw’s Scandinavian agent, collecting and submitting fees and royalties for Norwegian publication, Scandinavian book and serial publishing rights, and productions of Shaw’s plays (in multiple languages) in Copenhagen, Christiania, Helsinki, and the Norwegian provinces.

Shaw encouraged Vallentin, wherever possible, to take advantage of opportunities in the non-copyright countries to exercise the rights of a sole author, such as the pocketing of the full royalty for his Swedish translation in Finland. “I have nothing to do with that, as I have no copyright. . . . [End Page 186] The more you get out of them the better I shall be pleased; so dont have any delicacy in the matter.”13

Vallentin’s critically praised translation of Man and Superman at Stockholm’s Svenska Theater (October 1907—January 1908) was his first full-fledged success, achieving an enormously popular run of forty-six performances in the theater’s repertory, returning to the bill twice in 1908, and touring the provinces for several months. The remarkably good terms that Vallentin, like Trebitsch a cosmopolitan Jew, had obtained from the Svenska management did not go unrecognized or unappreciated by Shaw, who, in a letter to Hamon on 24 January 1910, remarked:

Always do business with a Jew when you can. You will usually get rather better terms out of him than out of a Christian, because his business ability enables him to make more. If you treat him as an honorable man, he appreciates your consideration, whereas a Frenchman either accepts it as a matter of course or demands it as a right. Furthermore, he never makes a bargain without fully understanding its terms, and meaning to carry it out; whereas an Englishman (I cannot answer for a Frenchman) never understands any document, and never means to carry it out unless it turns out exactly as he expected. My German translator is a Jew; and he sends me £500 a year from Germany and makes £500 a year for himself. . . . My American publisher is a Jew; and he not only pays me himself, but has made my previous publisher, who is a Christian and a swindler, disgorge his plunder to the uttermost farthing”


Shaw’s half of the Swedish tantièmes for the first twelve months of Man and Superman’s engagement exceeded £300. Vallentin was more astonished by this than Shaw, who had, since its London premiere in 1905, been convinced that it was the best acting play he had yet written, and the one that in the past two years had earned more money for him than any of the rest. And in Sweden there was the supplemental attraction of Strindberg’s actress ex-wife Harriet Bosse performing as Ann Whitefield.

Despite Vallentin’s lack of practical theater experience, he was an avid theatergoer and developed rapidly into a skilled playwright. Shaw, who knew no Swedish, could not evaluate the translations; but there was always a bit of tutoring available for the newest team member. “Be very careful,” Shaw cautioned, “whenever I use a phrase repeatedly to repeat exactly in the same words in Swedish. For instance, in The Man of Destiny, the lieutenant several times says ‘the better side of my nature,’ and ‘to shew his confidence in me.’ The lady betrays herself to Napoleon by repeating this [End Page 187] phrase—‘You see! I shew my confidence in you.’ If you vary the wording, using one version in one place and a different one in the next, the stage effect will be completely spoiled.” That, he warned, was the principal danger in translation. “If any passage puzzles [you] send me a postcard and I will explain” (CL 2: 615).

The greatest compliment Shaw offered to Vallentin was a statement in the last line of a letter to him on 26 July 1907, “I wish I had a Vallentin in every country: it would save me a lot of trouble.”14

Shaw’s Spanish translator Dr. Julio Broutá (d. 1932), was another busy journalist, member of the staff of Le Soir (Madrid office), in his forties, who had been strongly recommended by Siegfried Trebitsch. Although not theater-oriented, Broutá’s avidity in completing and publishing a translation of Arms and the Man in a matter of weeks after receiving Shaw’s official appointment in August 1907 left Shaw gasping with wonder. He was “a perfect devil for rapidity of work,” Shaw informed Hamon on 26 November 1907. “He throws off translations faster than Calderon threw off his four thousand original plays, and sends me almost every week not only a translation but a printed and published copy in a paper cover . . . involving me in an instant payment” of printing costs (600 or 700 francs) and an advance of £16 on the next translation (H). Eventually Broutá ran through the backlog, but not before he had translated and published eighteen Shaw plays in six years. The publications were slim wrappered booklets printed and published by Regino Velasco in Madrid, bearing the added imprint of the Sociedad de Autores Espathrough the backlog, but not before he had translated and published eighteen Shaw plays in six years. The In negotiating with Broutá, Shaw made the critical point that he was always to work from original English texts, never from accessible translations, for each translator necessarily strays a bit from the original and a translation at second hand will not only extend the alteration but may pick up the blunders of the earlier translator.

Shaw had barely begun to work with Broutá when a complication arose in the belated discovery that Spain had dual languages, Castilian and Catalan, and since Broutá could not deal with the latter, a translator might have to be brought in on a royalty-sharing or fee basis. Firm in his position that he would not accept sub-letting or division of labors, Shaw quickly resolved the problem by decreeing that the commitment would be limited to Castilian. Shortly afterward, in a similar situation in Bohemia, he opted to be translated into Czech but not into Serbo-Croat.

Spanish cabalists got after Broutá in the 1920s when it became rumored that he was not Spanish but Belgian, with no firm grasp of Castilian. As [End Page 188] his translations admittedly were mediocre and as Spain never exhibited much interest in Shaw’s plays, only six of which (including, inevitably, Pygmalion, Saint Joan, Candida, and Arms and the Man) had been produced in that nation, the hubbub was brief and insignificant. Shaw respected his commitments to Broutá; but received very little return on his investment and paid no particular attention to production of his plays in Spain.

A mystery man among the Shaw translators was Antonio Agresti (1866–1926). In Shaw’s correspondence there is little more than an inkling of his background, such as Agresti’s wife being a daughter of William Rossetti, or his being of the Jewish faith.15 Surviving Shaw correspondence picks up (on 22 January 1907) from a neglected (and now lost) preliminary negotiation of the previous summer and contains the standard invitation to take on the translation of seven plays and see them through the press by March 1908; it is amended, however, by a disclaimer necessitated by the close proximity of the deadline: “Finished translations are not necessary. A rough version dictated to a shorthand writer by your wife or yourself would be a sufficient compliance with the law, and would protect you against any unauthorized translation. You could then, at your leisure, prepare finished versions for regular publication or for use on the stage.”16 Agresti greatly simplified the arrangement through a fortuitous discovery that in Italy “publication” could be achieved by having the Prefettura stamp a typewritten copy of a work, page by page, for a fee considerably less costly and time-consuming than typesetting and printing.

Shaw would learn that Agresti, a prolific and hard-working writer, was an editor of the Rome newspaper La Tribuna and the author of Philosophy in Modern Literature (1904) and The Preraphaelites (1908), plus a few novels. He was also editor of Dante’s La Vita Nuovo (1902), with illustrations by his wife’s uncle Dante Gabriel Rossetti. His early political leanings were decidedly radical, including contributions to Hamon’s L’Humanité Nouvelle (a fact he may have sought subtly to communicate by enclosing his letter to Shaw in an envelope imprinted with the journal’s address) and The Torch: A Revolutionary Journal of Anarchist-Communism (London, 1894–6). Although Agresti was not a wealthy man he does not seem to have been motivated to take advantage of theatrical opportunities. In all of 1907 his sole inroad into Italian theater came to sixteen pounds, for which he supplied no details for the account book. In 1909, when Emma Grammatica, Italy’s most celebrated actress since Eleanora Duse, performed Vivie in Mrs Warren’s Profession, in the first performance of a Shaw play in Italy, and when in the same month it was followed by Arms and the Man, Agresti [End Page 189] collected no royalties from the theater managements. When Agresti did collect, he rarely remembered to indicate what the money represented: in the account book in April 1914 a note made by a secretary evidences that “[I] have not the least idea what this figure is based on. I can find no record of it” (HRC).

Agresti may not have been unique in this respect. From a remark in a letter of 6 September 1909 from Shaw to the secretary of the Society of Authors, G. Herbert Thring, one is given the impression that casualness in theater finances was endemic in Italy: “There is a custom of giving the author a very big haul on the first night—25% or something like that, a rather more moderate beano on the second night, and then the normal percentage.”17

If Shaw was discomforted by poor returns in Italy, he made no mention of this, apparently treating the losses as insufficient for grave concern. He had by now become inured to failure in France, and soon would in Spain. In the first two instances he could, if he would, fix the blame on incompetent translations. This, however, was not the case with Agresti’s intelligent and more sophisticated treatments. The Spanish failure at almost the same moment as that in Italy (where, according to the London Times on 16 November 1915, the premiere of Pygmalion in Venice was “coldly received by the audience” although there was “sympathetic criticism” in the press), would seem to suggest that Shaw’s works could not be translated into the romance languages. As Agresti lamented in a letter to Shaw on 3 December 1911, after reporting on a poor reception for The Man of Destiny in Rome, “The public here is still stupidly romantic and critical realistic plays like yours have to be forced down their throats.”18 These struggles, Shaw somewhere prophesied, are “battles which are won in the long run.” In Italy, at least, he was wrong.

Central Europe more than compensated for the Latin failures. Shaw in 1904 placed a few of his plays into the hands of an agent in London, Joseph Teleki, who operated an international agency specializing in Central European theater. Teleki’s first choice of translator in Hungary for Arms and the Man was a woeful failure: the production survived for only two performances. Shaw, misled into believing in 1906 that the plays had fallen into public domain, made no further effort to promote them, until his solicitor discovered that the Hungarian courts had decided that the right of stage representation was not forfeited along with the right of translation. With the assistance of Teleki and Dr. Emil Szalai, leading authority on copyright law in Hungary, Shaw instituted legal proceedings against unscrupulous agents who had illegally peddled rights in a few of [End Page 190] his plays to unsuspecting managements. “[I]t pays on the whole,” he instructed his Australian agent Henry Hyde Champion, “to go to law whenever a right is violated, not with a view to the case paying, but to establish a conviction that infringing Shaw means dead certain trouble.”19 Among those so convinced was the management of the Vigsinhaz Theater of Budapest after paying Shaw £14l.19.9 for royalties on piratical performances of The Devil’s Disciple (1906) and court costs.

To assist Shaw in getting a firmer foothold in Budapest theater, Teleki steered him to a young Hungarian, Dr. Sándor Hevesi (1873–1939), who, in the first three decades of the century, was a dramatic critic (for six years), a stage director and translator with Budapest’s National Theater, and, from 1922 to 1932, the managing director of the National Theatre. On 1 December 1907 Hevesi signed an agreement to serve as Shaw’s exclusive translator in Hungary.

It took several years for the plays to generate popularity for Shaw, although at least a few made critical stirs on their first appearance. Eventually Man and Superman and Candida achieved record-breaking runs of one hundred performances. Hevesi’s single significant failure was his inability to obtain a production or publication of his favorite Shaw play, Heartbreak House. It was finally performed in a postwar production seven years after Hevesi’s death, rehearsed from his manuscript translation, in which he had long ago inscribed the unhappy comment, “I don’t think this play is ever going to be performed in Hungary.”20 It outran any Shaw production in Hungary’s theater history.

At least forty productions of Shaw’s works were mounted in Budapest in his lifetime, including seven by the National Theatre, many remaining in the repertory for several years.

While Hungarian translations grew into success, nowhere was Shaw more popular in the first ten years of his European invasion than in Russia. Yet, initially, Russia did not fit into Shaw’s plans, for neither before nor after the Revolution did Russia recognize international copyright. As a consequence his popularity coincided with the Court Theatre successes in London and the earliest productions in Austro-Hungary, most of which were transferred instantly to Russian stages. The first play to make an appearance in Russia appears to have been Arms and the Man in 1904; the first to appear in print, a year later, was The Man of Destiny. Plays in sundry translations and diverse titles were performed in rapid succession in all [End Page 191] the major cities. In 1910 two Moscow publishers vied for a Shavian audience with editions (one in ten volumes, the other in nine) of Shaw’s “Complete Collected Works.” Neither edition lived up to its title, for Getting Married was omitted from both (it does not appear to have been published in Russia during Shaw’s life) and The Irrational Knot was included only in the nine-volume edition, whose publisher, Sovremennya Problemy (Contemporary Problems), had made a futile effort to obtain from Shaw published or manuscript texts and a preface in return for a percentage of sales.21

There was no question of an authorized translator for nearly a decade, until an appeal for authorization was made by Alexandra Lebedev, whom Shaw had known fondly as a child in the London home of her anarchist socialist father, Prince Peter Kropotkin. “Sasha,” now a grown woman, had recently married Boris Lebedev (known in England as Boris E. Lebedeff), a social revolutionary who earned his living for some years as a foreign correspondent for Liberal papers in Moscow and St. Petersburg (later Petrograd), and who after his return to Russia in 1918 was reported as working in some capacity for the American government. Lebedev had made some stage translations (including Caesar and Cleopatra in 1909), and Sasha now used her wiles to obtain licensing to translate Overruled. To her delight Shaw acquiesced, subsequently giving approval for translations of Androcles and the Lion and Pygmalion. In later years Sasha claimed to have collaborated with her husband on the plays, but this appears to have been braggadocio, for in a letter to Shaw, who had expressed doubt (in relation to Pygmalion) about her knowledge of profanity and obscenity, which she assured him she used fluently in both languages, she reminded him that it would be her husband who would do the translating. “I criticize you see.”22

Pygmalion was the first of the Lebedev translations to reach the stage, in the autumn of 1914. Over the next three years the Moscow and provincial performances brought Shaw a tidy sum of £118.17.2, the first money he received from Russia and a larger sum than he would earn from subsequent efforts of the translator, although Lebedev continued to translate until the second world war. In contradistinction to Shaw’s habitual establishment of an authorized translator for each language, he chose to license Lebedev only for single works, which allowed the published text to be advertised as “from the manuscript” and gave it a head start over competitors. This was equally helpful to theaters licensed by Shaw (through Lebedev), which obtained a text in advance of publication and had an added lead for the period of rehearsal.

Eventually the frustrations of the post-Revolution bureaucracy, with [End Page 192] Shaw’s letter of 31 March 1920 being reported by Lebedev as “just received” on 22 September, and a promised transmission of £200 in royalties by the Minister of Education, Anatole Lunacharsky, not eventuating, led to Shaw’s capitulation to the pirates.

His entrance into the Central European territories created a fresh complication, for, until the appointment of Hungarian and Bohemian translators who could transact local business for him, Shaw’s German agent (the firm of Entsch, Berlin) and publisher (S. Fischer, Berlin), sharing royalties with Trebitsch, had taken advantage of the void by treating all negotiations as theirs, regardless of language. This became an issue for Shaw when, in 1905, he was encouraged to take on trial a Bohemian translator, Karel Musakek (1867–1924), a former actor who had become a much-praised stage director of the National Theatre in Prague and friend of J. M. Synge, whom he translated. Negotiations were a bit bumpy. Shaw peeved Musakek by taking four and a half months to respond to an initial communication of 9 September 1904, and agreeing only to a trial translation of The Devil’s Disciple, for which Musakek would have exclusive rights in Bohemia until the end of 1905. This took two years to reach the Prague stage, by which time Musakek had convinced Shaw to let him translate You Never Can Tell, which Musakek directed for a prosperous run at the National Theatre, and Arms and the Man. Shaw, eminently satisfied with the reports of Charley Musakek’s triumph, was embarrassed to learn that Musakek’s share of the royalties had been diverted from the National to Entsch and divided with Trebitsch. He sent a furious letter to Entsch, then a more restrained but clearly angry one to Trebitsch, telling him “It is useless to protest . . . we have robbed that excellent Bohemian—STOLEN his money. . . . We are simply a pair of thieves” (SLT 124). He ordered Musakek to inform the managements that, at Shaw’s request, they were to turn over to Charley, as his personal agent, all future royalties for Bohemian translations.

When Musakek submitted a payment from which he had debited one-third for himself, Shaw insisted he increase all future payments to a half share, and assured him Entsch had been given the most strenuous instructions to keep his hands off performances in the Bohemian language. The royalty share provided to Musakek was greater than the amount most managements were accustomed to pay to the author! This increased remuneration was important to Shaw, for undercutting was against his principles. Invariably he demanded for himself more than the market rate for native authors, as an aid to driving their price higher even if it were at his own expense.

Through the years Shaw placed complete confidence in Musakek’s financial acumen and integrity. In August 1919, learning that Musakek had protected whatever fees were forthcoming to Shaw from wartime productions, [End Page 193] he urged, “If your own personal position becomes difficult at any moment do not hesitate to draw on my share of the fees” (Theatrics 151).

Although Musakek suffered the same criticism as did virtually all of his fellow Shaw translators (Karel C;akapek’s criticism at the time of Musakek’s death in 1924 embarrassing the widow—an Englishwoman who spoke no Czech—into appealing to a celebrated philologist at the University of Prague to have the scripts revised by his pupils), the translations and Musakek’s stagings of them appealed strongly to audiences. Shaw earned greater approval in Prague, in fact, than that accorded to any other modern dramatist, native or foreign. A rich venue of Shavian repertory developed in the provincial cities of Bohemia (there were no theatres in Slovakia until its union with Bohemia in 1918). And the reception of Shaw in Czechoslovakia after the first world war may be said to have outshone even that accorded him in Germany.

In comparison with the Hungarian and Bohemian translations, Polish presented a more complicated and ironical set of scenarios. Shaw’s entry into Poland occurred at the Municipal Theater of Lwow, which on 17 November 1903 produced The Devil’s Disciple in an unauthorized, mutilated version adapted from the German translation and performed as burlesque. It survived for three nights. Stagings in Cracow (1904–06) of Arms and the Man and You Never Can Tell in trappings of French farce were equally unsuccessful. Shaw made little headway until in 1906 a company in Warsaw unexpectedly found its way into the soul of Candida. Through the decade Shaw fever spread across the nation, to Posnan, to Cracow (a dozen productions), and to Warsaw, where an enthusiastically received production of The Devil’s Disciple was the forerunner of ten Shaw productions by 1913.

With the inauguration in 1913 of the Teatr Polski, Shaw was invited by its director Arnold Szyfman to enter into a private agreement for rights to Androcles and the Lion and Pygmalion. The translator was to be a former Cracow theater critic, now a clever litterateur in Warsaw, named Floryan Sobieniowski (1881–1964), who (unbeknownst to Shaw at the time) had translated Misalliance in 1912 from the German translation, there being no English text yet available. Shaw made a tentative decision to seek his services. When Sobieniowski came to London they spent three hours together, during which Sobieniowski was put through a probing examination about his education (University of Cracow; studies in art history and aesthetics in Paris and Munich), command of English, and literary credentials. Shaw stood silent as the natty bantam in dark suit and gray soft-leather gaiters prepared to leave; as they headed toward the door he pressed into Sobieniowski’s hand a pair of wrappered proofs of Androcles and Pygmalion, urging that, if he liked them, he inform Szyfman that Shaw had given approval. [End Page 194]

Sobieniowski’s version of Pygmalion, which opened a month before its first London performance, was received with universal hilarity, becoming the biggest success of all of Shaw’s works mounted at the Polski. There were three major productions (the others were in 1931 and 1937), each several times revived in the repertory. Before Shaw’s death the theater had staged nearly one thousand performances of his plays, including twenty-one Polish premieres, two European premieres, and one world premiere (The Apple Cart, 1929). Ironically, unlike the Germans, Czechs, Hungarians, and Russians, who were avid readers of theater texts, the Poles had no tradition for publication of plays, particularly those by foreign writers, with the consequence that, although Sobieniowski translated more than forty of Shaw’s plays, most of which were performed, virtually none of the Polish versions achieved publication in Shaw’s lifetime.

Another, greater irony was that, although Shaw worked in pleasant accord with Sobieniowski professionally, finding him sober, industrious, well-mannered, and reliable, “a man of genuine literary vocation and talent,”23 Sobieniowski was the only one of the translators Shaw could not personally abide. The man’s upbringing, as a member of the impoverished country gentry of southeastern Poland, then under Russian domination, had led to an early manhood of penury, to earning a precarious livelihood as a teacher, then to haunting the fringes of intellectual society as a sometime poet and editor until he could acquire a moiety of income as a translator. In 1913 he escaped to a life in England (1913–29) that at first offered little advantage, dwelling with a querulous wife and peevish young son in a single room, struggling to survive by his pen.

Shaw, who had experienced poverty in his own early London years, could empathize, recognizing in his guileful Polish translator a person who might be forgiven for banditry as a preference to starvation. He could tolerate a man who was in money matters, as Shaw bluntly informed him, “the most incapable, incorrigible, impecunious, always-borrowing, never-paying victim of a craze for literature at present alive in London. . . .”24 He drew the line, however, at unprincipled behavior: at prevarication, fraud, and blackmail. And Sobieniowski, he knew, was guilty of all three. Still, Sobieniowski had to support a family, and as he gave good value for the royalty money he shared (although he was deeply immersed in Shaw’s debt most of the time), Shaw preferred to convince himself that Sobieniowski “would be honest if he knew how and could afford it.”25

Remarkably, through all the 1920s and ‘30s Shaw clung stubbornly to [End Page 195] his overwhelming translation commitments and manner of dealing with them, allowing his interest to ebb only as the original translators, agents, and publishers passed from the scene. A few of these automatically were superseded: Vallentin in 1921 by his former assistant Ebba Byström (later Lady Low); Agresti in 1926 by the stage director and publisher of his plays, Cesare Castelli. Shaw politely responded to their occasional correspondence; but increasingly resigned his affairs to agents in varying parts of the world, some of them like Lawrence Smith in Buenos Aires dealing with territories and markets Shaw had never himself explored. By the late ‘30s the translations involved upwards of fifty languages and dialects. World War II wiped out most of Shaw’s business communications abroad for six years, and when the war ended he found it convenient to transfer his foreign licensing and collections to the Society of Authors on a commission basis.

As early as 1908 he despairingly admitted to Henry Arthur Jones, “I curse the day when international copyright was invented” (Theatrics 89). Who could blame him?

Fred D. Crawford

Fred D. Crawford, 23 January 1947–4 January 1999, General Editor of SHAW: The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies, 1990–2000, and Associate Professor of English at Central Michigan University, was the author of numerous books and articles on British and modern literature, notably H. M. Tomlinson (1981); Mixing Memory and Desire: The Waste Land and British Novels (1982); British Poets of the Great War (1988); and Richard Aldington and Lawrence of Arabia: A Cautionary Tale (1998). He was also working on a biography of the American broadcaster Lowell Thomas. In addition to his work as general editor of SHAW, he was guest editor of SHAW 9: Shaw Offstage; co-editor with Stanley Weintraub of SHAW 10; and co-editor with Dan H. Laurence of SHAW 20: Bibliographical Shaw.

Shaw Correspondence Published by Kind Permission of the Libraries Noted.


1. Chronik eines Lebens (Zurich, 1951); tr., Chronicle of a Life (London, 1953)

2. Archer in The World, 15 January 1902; Beerbohm in the Saturday Review, 1 February 1902; Grein in the Sunday Special, 12 January 1902. [CPr 1: 113]

3. ALS, 13 July 1910. Berg Collection, NYPL.

4. Three volumes of the exercises (1892–93) are in the BL, Add. Mss 50726A,B,C.

5. ALS to harcourt, 27 August 1903. Pierpont Morgan Library, MA4973 (31). TLS to Archer, 3 July 1908. BL, Add. Mss 45296, f. 193.

6. The first two volumes (1898–1928) of Shaw’s account books (also identified as receipt books) are in the HRHRC. Later volumes are in the BLPES.

7. The University of Brest posseses several hundred Shaw letters to Hamon; most were microfilmed for the Hamon Archive at the University of Guelph, which also contains a number of original letters to Hamon and other drafts and documents. In 1962 the letters were photographed for Dan H. Laurence’s edition of the Collected Letters, many typed transcripts of which by Henriette Hamon remain in his possession. The negatives and photo prints were, however, presented to Bernard Burgunder for Cornell in gratitude for his generous underwriting of the heavy costs involved in the reproductins. The letters cited in this article, identified by “(H),” are derived from the Laurence transcriptions.

8. [?TLS], 28 October 1911; Blanche, Portraits of a Lifetime (London, 1937), pp. 228–9.

9. Extracts from TLS to Hamon, 3 February 1908, with some revision; published in translation in Comoedia (Paris), 2 April 1912. The play had been running at the Theatre de Arts since 16 February.

10. ALS, 30 Marhc 1904. Universitetsbiblioteket, Uppsala, SwedenL Cod. Ups. G 359.

11. J.M. Borup to Shaw, ALS, 11 January 1904. BLPES, 10/A/1/1, f. 13.

12. ALS, 27 November 1913. BLPES, 10/A/1/5, f. 10.

13. TLS, 10 June 1907. Berg Collection, NYPL.


15. The assertion, by Bernard F. Dukore in Bernard Shaw and Gabriel Pascal (Toronto, 1996), p. 4, is unsourced.

16. TLS, 22 January 1907. Mugar Library, Boston University.

17. ALS. Ellen Clarke Bertrand Library, Bucknell University.


19. ALS, 2 September 1911; in Lesley Henderson, The Goldstein Story (Melbourne, 1973), p. 163. Vera Goldstein was Champion’s sister-in-law.

20. Extracted from a TLS of Louis Barta, Jr., to Shaw, 10 December 1946, among serveral documents passed along by Shaw to the Society of Authors, which supplied photocopied to Dan H. Laurence.

21. ALS (inc.), 10 February 1910, from the editor to Shaw. BLPES, 15/3/f.6.

22. ALS, 4 August 1913. HRHRC.

23. Shaw to T. J. Wise, TLS, 29 September 1933. Ashley Library, BL, B4019, f. 115.

24. ALS, 19 February 1924. Berg Collection, NYPL.

25. Shaw to H. G. Wells, TLS, 11 April 1924. Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells, ed. J. Percy Smith (Toronto, 1995), p. 118.

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