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  • IX. The Archibald Henderson Collection
  • Sarah A. Wadsworth (bio)

[Some Principal Shaw Research Sources]

Late in the spring of 1904, Bernard Shaw received a surprising request: an academician in North Carolina wished to write his biography. The previous year Archibald Henderson, professor of mathematics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, had set aside his researches into the “Twenty-seven Lines upon the Cubic Surface” to attend a Chicago production of You Never Can Tell. Completely captivated by the play, Henderson proceeded to read everything he could by and about its author. Several months later, when he had exhausted available resources, he determined to write to Shaw, proposing himself as biographer. Shaw’s reply, as astonishing as Henderson’s ad hoc proposition, was affirmative, and soon it was agreed that the math professor from North Carolina would become Shaw’s authorized biographer.

In spite of haphazard beginnings, the partnership thus formed proved to be an enduring and mutually profitable one that lasted until Shaw’s death forty-six years later. Not only did Archibald Henderson complete the proposed biography, Bernard Shaw: His Life and Works (1911), but he went on to produce two more full-length lives of Shaw in addition to a host of other books and articles on the playwright and his plays. By Henderson’s own account, he published more than one hundred magazine and newspaper articles on Shaw, and for many years these texts were considered the authoritative sources on his life and work. But Henderson’s gift to future Shavians far exceeds the critical and biographical texts he published, for he consigned an abundance of materials pertaining to his studies of Shaw, together with his extensive personal collection of Shaviana, to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The archive that developed around this hefty array of materials now forms one of the premier repositories of books, manuscripts, correspondence, pictures, and other items by or pertaining to Shaw.

The Archibald Henderson Collection of George Bernard Shaw comprises two distinct components. The first, the Rare Book archive established by Henderson in 1948 and enlarged through subsequent donations and purchases, currently contains several thousand items by or about Shaw. Among some 3,000 printed volumes in the collection are nearly all the first editions of Shaw’s plays, comprehensive collections of later editions, foreign translations, and extensive holdings of Shaw’s non-dramatic publications, including Fabian Society tracts and other ephemera. Many of the books that belonged to Henderson contain inscriptions, annotations, or commentary penned by Shaw for the benefit of his biographer. The Collection also contains fifty-five proof or rehearsal copies of the plays, along with Shaw’s own corrected prompt copies of How He Lied to [End Page 169] Her Husband: A Warning to Playgoers (London, ca. 1904) and The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet (London, 1909). These early texts offer valuable insight into the development of the plays from manuscript drafts to published works. The balance of the Collection’s Rare Book holdings consists of more than one thousand playbills, programs, and pictures of productions, 350 photographs, 240 cartoons and caricatures, and eighty-six volumes containing hundreds of newspaper and magazine clippings (mainly from English-language sources) by or about Shaw. These items, representing nearly a century of news coverage (1887–1973), include reviews, articles, and “letters to the editor” written by Shaw, records of Shaw’s public addresses, criticism of works about Shaw, and reviews of productions of his plays.

The second repository, the Southern Historical Collection’s George Bernard Shaw Papers, includes approximately 5,000 items, spanning the years 1878–1964. Although the bulk of the material consists of correspondence pertaining to Henderson’s biographical and critical studies of Shaw, the Collection also contains items concerning Shaw’s relationship with publishers, the Fabian Society, and production of his plays. The archive comprises letters, pictures, manuscripts, drafts, and proofs of published and unpublished works.

The Henderson Correspondence and Notes contain some 4,500 items, dated 1878–1962. Most of these are letters exchanged between Henderson and Shaw, Shaw’s relations, and Shaw’s secretaries during the composition of Bernard Shaw: His Life and Works (1911), Bernard Shaw: Playboy and...

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