Penn State University Press

[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 for his conformist marriage (Ms 852: 112–18).

It was while preparing the novels for serialization that these changes were made. Having failed to have the books published as planned in their order of composition, Shaw no doubt realized that too many cross-novel allusions would only be a puzzling distraction. The later, preface-writing Shaw made little of the serial publication of the novels. Padding out the pages of the socialist magazines of the 1880s with his unpublished novels, he claimed, “seemed a matter of no more consequence than stuffing so many broken windowpanes with them” (CPr 1: 92). The manuscripts reveal, however, how hard he worked on revising The Irrational Knot for Our Corner, Cashel Byron’s Profession and An Unsocial Socialist for To-Day. Some things came more easily to him than others: the dramatist-to-be is apparent in the fluent dialogue, with few changes made even in the earliest novels, but narrative and descriptive passages needed extensive rewriting.

In The Irrational Knot in particular, the earliest composed of the serialized novels, virtually every page of the manuscript has words, sentences, whole paragraphs scored out, with revised versions written in above them in Shaw’s tiniest but still entirely legible hand. There were more than stylistic changes, too. The characterization of Conolly, the imperturbable, always rational Shavian protagonist, caused Shaw some trouble. In the pre-serial manuscript, Conolly received the news of his wife’s elopement with perfect equanimity, insisting on sitting down to his supper before discussing the matter: “though I have lost my wife, I have not lost my appetite” (Ms 845: 507v). Even by Shaw’s standards this must have seemed a touch monstrous, and he recast the whole of this scene to try to make Conolly’s behavior more humanly credible. Similarly the novel’s ending, with the impasse of Conolly and the estranged Marian facing one another over their dead marriage, was entirely rewritten for the final installment of the serial, with pages of the manuscript dated 25/12/86 and 26/12/86 (Ms 845: 636, 640).

The NLI manuscripts of The Irrational Knot, Cashel Byron’s Profession, and An Unsocial Socialist bear the marks of being used as copy for the printers of Our Corner and To-Day, including Shaw’s strict instructions (already in 1885) to observe his idiosyncratic typographical conventions—no apostrophes, etc. (Ms 843: 1). If Shaw later concealed how thoroughly he revised the novels for serialization, how much they meant to him at that time, he also misrepresented the degree and nature of changes made for serial and [End Page 154] for book publication. Shaw claimed that for the 1889 Walter Scott edition of Cashel Byron’s Profession “certain ‘little bits of Socialism daubed in’ for the edification of the readers of To-Day were either painted out or better harmonized with the rest” (CPr 1: 102). There are, in fact, only two such passages identifiably added to the manuscript at the serializing stage, both from the early chapter introducing the heroine Lydia Carew.

The account of her fortune there is altered to describe her as “the independent possessor of an annual income equal to the year[‘]s earnings of thirty thousand workmen, and under no external compulsion to do anything in return for it” (Ms 852: 32). A second inserted passage is Lydia’s disgusted reaction to London society, “which she found to be in the main a temple for the worship of wealth and a market for the sale of virgins. Having become familiar with both the cult and the trade elsewhere, she found nothing to interest her except the English manner of conducting them; and the novelty of this soon wore off” (Ms 852: 35). In point of fact both these passages appear substantially unaltered in the 1889 edition of Cashel Byron’s Profession; only the grotesque size of Lydia’s income was scaled down to “the year’s earnings of five hundred workmen” (Cashel Byron’s Profession, London: Walter Scott, [1889], 32).*

What the novel-writing Shaw needed to learn most of all was to cut. With The Irrational Knot, for which he was being paid by the page by Annie Besant’s philanthropic Our Corner, he had no incentive to shorten the serial version of the novel, but whole chapters were excised when it came to book publication. With the other novels also, the manuscripts show the process of editing out narrative filler, Shaw realizing that ellipsis was often more effective as a means of plot progression than full and systematic story-telling. For the keen Shavian scholar, therefore, there remain substantial chunks of discarded, unpublished Shaw prose to be dug out of the manuscripts of the novels. The oddest case, however, is that of Immaturity, where Shaw let mice do his editing for him. This, his first novel, was the only one that he did not serialize nor try to publish before being persuaded to include it in the Collected Edition. The manuscript had been nibbled by mice, “though,” as Shaw remarked ironically, “even they had not been able to finish it” (CPr 1: 94).

When preparing the novel for publication in 1921, Shaw simply jettisoned the two chapters damaged by the nibbling, even though only a very few pages (Ms 846: 387–91) were seriously damaged. On the other hand, he did not hold back from extensive revision of the manuscript according to the principle proclaimed in the preface (CPr 3: 30–31). Shaw was a professional writer: even when exposing his very first production, the fitly [End Page 155] named Immaturity, he could not refrain from touching up his juvenile efforts, making his 1879 self appear more precocious than he actually was. We should not be misled by the later, then-famous Shaw’s efforts to downplay the significance of the novels. The NLI manuscripts help to show how crucial a part of his writing apprenticeship they were, how much they mattered to him, and his continuing authorial investment in them.

There is very little sign of Shaw’s nationality in the novels, but his Irish connections and interests are represented in the NLI holdings in a scatter of papers collected over the years from various sources. So, for instance, there are copies of correspondence (Ms 2292) relating to his 1945 transfer of his property in Carlow to the town’s Urban District Council, involving the passing of special legislation in the Dáil. We find evidence of Shaw’s involvement with Roger Casement, both at the time of his trial in 1916, when Shaw corresponded with Casement’s lawyer, G. Gavan Duffy (Ms 17601: 12), and later, in 1937, when the controversy about the Casement diaries resurfaced (Ms 5460). Also from 1916 is the manuscript draft of “Some Neglected Morals of the Irish Rising” with Shaw’s covering letter to Clifford Sharp urging its immediate publication in the New Statesman (Ms 3229: 2–3).

A variety of correspondents wrote from Ireland at one time or another, and Shaw’s replies have found their way to the NLI. There are letters to Irish writers (Yeats), to actors (W. G. Fay), and to artists (Sarah Purser); there are contacts with Irish family connections—“Fortunately I have a heart of stone: else my relatives would have broken it long ago” (Ms 3229: 8, to Rachel Mahaffy). Proposals for commemorative plaques in Synge Street and on Torca Cottage elicited two other sets of letters, which included Shaw’s fancy that Dublin Corporation might have a version of the Troubetzkoy statue of Shaw erected on College Green, from which the equestrian statue of King William had been removed: “If it were cast from his metal my ghost would be enormously amused” (Ms 9261: ff. 4–5, to Patrick O’Reilly, 10 September 1949).**

Never shy of expressing an opinion, Shaw gave Irish correspondents the benefit of his views on one subject or another. In 1945 he expatiated to Joseph McCullagh of Drumcondra on the benefits of washing his face in cold water without soap (Ms 3229: 14). In 1949 he remonstrated with a Miss Purcell on her occupation as a teacher of Irish: “Why do you waste your time in the sin of teaching Gaelic (a dead language that never existed except on paper) for starvation wages?” (Ms 3229: 24). The one other substantial item in the NLI collection is the original typescript of Charles McMahon Shaw’s 1939 book Bernard’s Brethren with Shaw’s handwritten [End Page 156] comments in the margins and, in addition to other correspondence, his long typed letter to his Australian cousin correcting his “biographer’s blunders” (Ms 15686).***

The NLI Shaw collection can not be compared in importance with the major Shavian centers elsewhere, but Dublin has to be on the Shaw researcher’s map for the manuscripts in the NLI, not to mention the valuable genealogical material on the Shaw family in the National Archives and the Representative Church Body Library. Scholars of Irish studies have long had reason to be grateful to Richard Hayes as the editor of the enormous multi-volume Manuscript Sources for the History of Irish Civilization. Shaw scholars in particular can thank him for that request/command of his in 1945 that brought the manuscripts of the novels so beautifully bound to rest in the National Library of Ireland.

Related Articles:

Some Principal Shaw Research Sources

Nicholas Grene

Nicholas Grene, recently appointed to the Chair of English Literature at Trinity College, Dublin, is the author of Bernard Shaw: A Critical View and Shakespeare’s Tragic Imagination. His most recent book is The Politics of Irish Drama: Plays in Context from Boucicault to Friel.

For information: The National Library of Ireland

(The Director), National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, Ireland; phone: [+353 1] 661 88 11; fax: [+353 1] 676 66 90; url:


* This change, in fact, had already been made in the novel’s first edition (London: Modern Press, 1886, 17).

**. The correspondence about the Torca Cottage commemoration is with John Fitzgerald, Ms 8381.

***. Shaw’s letter of 17 November 1937 was subsequently revised and included in Sixteen Self Sketches. Although Bernard’s Brethren presents Shaw’s comments rubricated on facing pages to C.M, Shaw’s text, the book does not include all the annotations that G. B. S. made on the manuscript.

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