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ELT 38:4 1995 Heartbreak House Critique A. M. Gibbs. Heartbreak House: Preludes of Apocalypse. New York: Twayne, 1994. xviii + 149 pp. $29.95 A. M. GIBBS'S Masterworks of Literature volume on Heartbreak House is an indispensable guide to what is arguably Shaw's most complex play if not his greatest. In view of the amount of excellent commentary now available on Heartbreak House, Shaw's play can support a full-length monograph. My chief reservation concerning Gibbs's account remains that it is not long enough to be completely exhaustive. But that is not the fault of the critic since he undoubtedly worked under constraints with respect to length since his work is part of a series. It is worth noting that such a study would have been impossible forty years ago. Until the 1950s the play was not generally regarded as the masterwork it is now accepted as being, and with a few exceptions treatments of the play were either negative or nugatory. As a result of the renaissance in Shaw criticism in the late sixties and the seventies and the play's success in performance after the Second World War, Heartbreak House has now assumed its rightful place as a major work in the Shaw canon. Along with Major Barbara and Pygmalion, it has become the most studied work in the Shavian oeuvre, and it now merits a separate study to serve as summary (within limits) of existing scholarship and opinion. But Gibbs's book is more than an informed summary: it is a work of profound insight and sharp discrimination as well, and text and footnotes all attest to Gibbs's thorough and exhaustive research. Some of the strength of the book resides in Gibbs's organization of the findings of others, so that he increases the impact of Heartbreak House by bringing together, for example, the many separate studies of its symbolism in the chapters "Chamber of Echoes" and "Out of That Darkness': Symbolism and the Supernatural." In "Critical Reception" I regret that Gibbs could not have been more inclusive, since he was unable to discuss separately some of the more stimulating recent articles on the play and to mention only in a footnote most of the recent treatments of the play in books on Shaw. But we must remain grateful for what the book does give us. Let me mention a few of the more provocative discussions in the chapters on symbolism already cited. In "Chamber of Echoes" Gibbs convincingly analyzes the autobiographical elements in the play, pre536 BOOK REVIEWS sent mostly by implication rather than overtly. He does not do this so much in light of Shaw's disillusionment with Fabian Socialism as in light of Shaw's involvements with Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Erica Coterill. Shaw in this play gives a mythic dimension to his personal experience, and Gibbs suggests numerous parallels to events, situations , and people that figured in his life. Gibbs is so persuasive that it is virtually impossible to imagine the character of Hesione and the relationship between her and Hector existing in the play without the presence in Shaw's life of Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Gibbs's remarks about the houses that have parallels to or recall Heartbreak House itself are illuminating: the houses featured in Dickens, Jane Austen, Peacock, and E. M. Forster are the most germane. Some of the characters and situations in Shaw's play echo those in Shakespeare, Dickens, and Chekhov. Especially provocative are the links that Gibbs establishes between Heartbreak House and Uncle Vanya. The presentation is full and definitive, though Gibbs might also have given us in his treatment of the symbolic elements in the play more of the parallels to the Bible. Nor does he chart the parallels existing in the play between Carlyle and Shaw, and he mentions Wagner only in passing. In "Out of That Darkness': Symbolism and the Supernatural" Gibbs analyzes cogently several symbolic and philosophic aspects of the play. Among these are Shaw's use of water imagery, his use of Ught and darkness for thematic emphasis or to set a mood, the ambiguous aspect of "heartbreak" (does it lead to despair or to renewed spiritual...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 536-539
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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