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BOOK REVIEWS Shaw's Novels Richard Fair Dietrich. Bernard Shaw's Novels: Portraits of the Artist as Man and Superman. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. xviii + 203 pp. $39.95 PROFESSOR DIETRICH has enjoyed the luxury of expressing his view of Shaw's novels no less than three times: first, in dissertation form in 1964, then as a book in 1969, and now in this present book. Dietrich claims this latest work is no mere second edition (of the 1969 book) because he has rewritten more than fifty percent of the text and done much tinkering besides. Certainly the result is an eminently readable tome. The change in the two book titles, from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Superman: A Study of Shaw's Novels (1969) to Bernard Shaw's Novels: Portraits of the Artist as Man and Superman, appears to indicate the shift in Dietrich's approach to the novels. His thesis now "is that Shaw's employment of his five novels to draw a self-portrait began as a critical, self-mocking portrait of the artist as a young man (that is, of Shaw as he had recently been) but by the second novel became a portrait of the artist as a young Superman (that is, of Shaw as he envisioned he might be)—so as to facilitate a psychic transformation in the author from an ineffective intellectual to effective statesman-poet." In other words, the novels are autobiographical and embody Shaw's own perception of his development during the period he was writing them—a common enough theory of authors and their works. At the same time, Shaw utilized the novels as a means of resolving a "major psychic crisis" in his life, seeing them as some species of catharsis, a way of exorcising his demons of inadequacy and affirming his own sense of genius. So Dietrich's analysis focuses largely on the central male figures in each novel, beginning with Robert Smith in Immaturity who is dubbed, to establish the Joycean parallels of Dietrich's title, "a Stephen Dedalus on the lukewarm Protestant side." Smith embodies Shaw's struggle to rid himself of the social constrictions of nation, language, religion, romance, and marriage. In The Irrational Knot, the hero, Edward Conolly, no longer ponders his social acceptability; rather, he questions whether society is acceptable to him. The Welsh composer hero (Owen Jack) of Love Among the Artists is portrayed as an authentic but neglected genius, much as Shaw perceived himself as he languished in unpublished obscurity. The eponymous hero oiCashel Byron's Profession is "another disconnected young Shaw hero" through whom, by the novel's 501 ELT 40:4 1997 end, Shaw has expressed his own sense of wholeness. That self-understanding is further reflected in An Unsocial Socialist whose hero, Sidney Trefusis, is as completely extroverted as Shaw was by that time, well on his way to confidently adopting the persona of public jester. Dietrich encapsulates this transformational journey in one apposite paragraph: the novels "show us the romance of a young Christian gentleman, possessed of the gift of irony, gradually distinguishing himself from his Victorian surroundings, discovering the cause of his outlawry, and devising the strategy of the ironist. The Superman—the Christian gentleman in desperate disguise—pretends to be the Satan that everyone thinks he is, thereby giving intelligent persons a chance to recognize and laugh at the discrepancy between the true man and the reputed devil." All this may be true enough, and Dietrich's book as an account of the novels is fine enough, although some readers might balk at the lengthy plot descriptions. What is less convincing is Dietrich's demonstration of direct biographical and hence psychological correspondences between the novels and Shaw's life. He tends to point to some event or moment in a novel and then declare that was just what Shaw himself was doing, thinking or feeling with little palpable evidence to support the declaration . Of course, this is, in a sense, an insuperable difficulty: by definition Dietrich believes the novels are the psychological evidence for Shaw's state of mind and that no other corroborating evidence exists. Superfluous to Dietrich's endeavors...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 501-503
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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