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SHAW The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies 22 (2001) 19-65

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From Murray's Mother-in-Law to Major Barbara:
The Outside Story

Sidney P. Albert



Why a second article concerned with the same time, events, and people as the first? An explanation is in order. The first article, "In More Ways Than One: Major Barbara's Debt to Gilbert Murray," was actually an abridged version of a longer essay curtailed to meet periodical publication constraints, the complete text reserved for later possible reissue in unabridged form. 1 In the meantime the published version engendered a number of unanticipated yet noteworthy consequences. The most intriguing of these was the discovery of an error that eventually begat this sibling article.

Research on another project in 1982—an article of mine on Gilbert Murray as a playwright for a volume of the Dictionary of Literary Biography—led me to a published lecture, Biography as History, by Francis West, the author of a biography of Herbert Murray, Gilbert's elder brother, and at the time a prospective biographer of GM. 2 In a footnote, West, cited "In More Ways," pointed out that I was mistaken in reporting that Shaw read the play to Lady Mary as well as to Murray at Oxford in October 1905, since she was abroad at the time. West attributed the mistake to my having "had no opportunity to consult the confidential letters from which this is taken and so had to guess about certain points." 3 In a brief correspondence with West, I assured him that the assertion was no guess, but, as the text discloses, Murray's own printed words—"at the end of Act II my wife and I were thrilled with enthusiasm"—were what led me to state that Lady Mary was present (IMW, 376). It was Murray, reminiscing in his old age, who did the misleading. [End Page 19]

The criticism alerted me to the possibility that there might be more relevant evidence of Murray's involvement with Major Barbara—evidence of which I was unaware. I enlisted Professor West's helpful guidance and set off for England. There Alexander Murray, GM's grandson and literary executor, graciously granted me permission to peruse the Murray family papers in Oxford University's Bodleian Library. He also told me that there would be two biographies of Murray forthcoming, one by West and the other, for the Oxford University Press, by Sir Duncan Wilson, eminent classical scholar, diplomat, and former master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University. A former ambassador to Yugoslavia and to the U.S.S.R., Sir Duncan was also author of a book on Tito's Yugoslavia and a biography of Leonard Woolf. Alexander Murray predicted that the two books would be very different from one another, which proved to be true. Neither author was then at Oxford, Wilson being ensconced on a northern Scottish island and West having returned to Australia.

Through Alexander Murray's good offices I was able to reach Sir Duncan by telephone, and we came to a genial agreement that he would share with me any of his findings about Major Barbara in his Murray research, and I would do the same with respect to Murray in my Major Barbara explorations. After my return to California, we corresponded and exchanged information until 1983. Our correspondence was terminated in that year by his sudden death. I did not learn of his death, however, until the publication of his Murray biography in 1987, a work completed by his widow from his copiously annotated but unfinished manuscript. In delving into Major Barbara, we inevitably tilled some of the same soil. 4

Discoveries from these sources—especially from the Murray family archives in the Bodleian Library—along with unpublished material from the unabridged "In More Ways" essay, provide a different lens through which to view the developments scrutinized in that work's published account. At the same time, it became increasingly evident that any attempt to interpolate the disparate new data into the...


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