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  • V. The National Library of Ireland
  • Nicholas Grene (bio)

[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]

“Your invitation as national librarian is in the nature of a command,” Shaw wrote in December 1945, replying to a letter from Richard J. Hayes suggesting that there could “be no better place than the National Library of Ireland for your manuscripts” (CL 4: 761). Although just the previous year he had answered a similar request from the British Museum with the [End Page 152] donation of the shorthand draft of Saint Joan, claiming that no other of his manuscripts survived (NLI Ms 3229 [pr])—did he really believe that?—by 1945 he had remembered or rediscovered his early novels and gave them to the NLI. The original manuscripts of four of the five published novels were still in his possession: Immaturity (Mss 846–49), The Irrational Knot (Mss 843–45), Cashel Byron’s Profession (Mss 852–53), and An Unsocial Socialist (Mss 850–51), the manuscript of Love among the Artists having been dispersed to survive only in fragments; there was also the scrap of a sixth unfinished novel (Ms 854) started in 1887–88, which the 89-year-old Shaw claimed totally to have forgotten.

It was this substantial body of papers that had to be prepared in a state worthy of their new home, a task that Shaw assigned to the celebrated bookbinder Douglas Cockerell, whose firm collated the pages, cleaned, flattened, and repaired them, mounted each leaf on hand-made paper, and bound them in a total of twelve volumes. A good deal of thought went into the design of the covers. “Hand-made paper, marbled by floating colour on a soup made of carrageen moss” was used for the side papers, while the spines were bound in vellum (Irish Press, 7 January 1946, bound in Ms 848). It was a major undertaking in both time and money, taking an estimated 500–600 hours, and costing Shaw a total of £120 (CL 4: 765), not a negligible sum in 1946. The author professed himself embarrassed by the disparity between the beauty of the settings and the inadequacy of his juvenile fiction (CL 4: 766); but he took the trouble to introduce each novel with a one-page typed explanation to be included with the manuscripts, which were then transported to the NLI through the good offices of John Dulanty, Irish High Commissioner in London.

In the prefaces to his reprinted “Novels of My Nonage,” Shaw wrote dismissively of his early false start as a fiction writer. The novels were prentice pieces, a drudgery undertaken to pass the time of the long-term workless G.B.S.: “I employed myself in novel writing because nobody would employ me in any other sort of writing” (CPr 3: 39). Shaw’s Diaries make it clear how little this reflected how he felt at the time. With the death of his father in April 1885 and the consequent loss of his weekly remittance of thirty shillings, “paid journalism became inevitable,” and “this put a stop to my life’s work” (Diaries 1: 33, 54). The manuscripts make this conception of the novels as his “life’s work” much more understandable.

Shaw did not merely trudge on with one unpublishable novel after another; there was a Balzacian design to the sequence, a would-be Comédie humaine, traces of which survive in the published texts with a number of recurring characters and fictional cross-references. Several more of these, edited out of the manuscripts, show how much Shaw originally imagined his fictions as an interlocking world. Thus, for example, Ned Conolly the engineer and Owen Jack the composer, the respective heroes of The Irrational [End Page 153] Knot and Love among the Artists, were both present in Cashel Byron’s Profession at the party of Mrs. Hoskyn (Mary Sutherland from Love among the Artists) to cheer on Cashel Byron in his great speech on executive power (Ms 852: 130). In another canceled scene in the same novel Marmaduke Lind, rakish lover of Susanna Conolly of The Irrational Knot, was recalled to serve as interlocutor and link-character, giving readers a glimpse of the punishment visited on him...

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