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Book Reviews Embattled G.B.S. Leon Hugo. Edwardian Shaw: The Writer and His Age. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999. xiii + 308 pp. $59.95 LEON HUGO'S elegantly written Edwardian Shaw begins in January 1901, in the month when Victoria, who gave her name to an age, was succeeded by her son Edward VII. It is less clear that the Edwardian interim ends nine years later, in May 1910, at the King's death. Many scholars feel that its natural end occurred with the violent breakout of the Great War in 1914. Hugo, Professor Emeritus at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, has his cake and eats it too by closing with Edward's demise but attaching an epilogue. The strategy works. Having been given nothing whatever to do by his censorious mother while he waited in the wings, the aging Prince of Wales had lived a life of easy morals and was expected to typify a new era in which obsolete traditions and practices would enter the scrap heap of history. While that proved to happen in many areas of political, social and cultural life, one sector resisted change more stubbornly than most others—the theater. Stage entrepreneurs, for example, wanted censorship to continue because licensed plays guaranteed them freedom from the morals police, who had sway in the freedom-loving United States and would close down Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession in New York. Theater critics and audiences in England preferred a pharmacopoeia of the mixture as before— carefully plotted plays with beginnings, middles, and endings; and, whatever their titillating elements, a conclusion that confirmed convention . In the 1890s, only Wilde and Shaw had been stage subversives, and Wilde had cautiously masked his inversion of expectation while Shaw ran into censorship and saw few, even, of his allegedly "Pleasant" plays (like Candida and Arms and the Man) produced. By January 1901 Wilde was dead, his plays withdrawn from the stage because of his morals conviction in 1895. Shaw, his contemporary, had experienced only one shot at the commercial stage, when his joyous romp, a staple, now, of English comedy, You Never Can Tell, went into rehearsal at the Haymarket. Cyril Maude and his company could not realize it. Shaw pulled it, and was pronounced thereafter unfit for West End stages. 206 BOOK REVIEWS It is here that Hugo begins. Edward VII's awaited new broom does not extend to the cobwebs in the commercial theater, and to have a hearing for his plays, Shaw must find marginally commercial venues. The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square, remote from Shaftesbury Avenue and just above the rumble of the Circle Line, becomes the site of the Shavian experiment in new audiences for new plays. Managed by John Vedrenne, directed by young Harley Granville Barker, and in effect financed by Shaw, whose plays become the core offerings of the 1904-1907 seasons, the Court repertory is central to Hugo's book. Although 701 of the 988 matinee and evening performances were of Shaw's plays, the bread-and-butter of the Court box-office, Hugo works out the non-Shavian element—29%—as the nurturing of the new Edwardian theater: plays by new English playwrights which audiences were usually willing to chance, and by established (if pioneering) European playwrights from which Londoners shied away. Shaw, Hugo contends , knew that he could not sustain a revolution alone, and sought out potential cohorts to encourage the changes in taste which at the same time sowed the seeds of a national theater. Blind and deaf to change, Hugo's villains are the London critics who dominated press coverage of new plays. He has performed prodigies of press-cuttings research to dig out their dusty columns and expose their hypocrisies and stupidities. Even Shaw's old friend William Archer, praised for his championing of Ibsen, is panned for his undermining of Shaw, which seems as jealous of genius as it is small-minded. Most vicious to Hugo is Shaw's old colleague on the afternoon Star in the late1880s , Arthur Bingham Walkley, who was "Spectator" as stage reviewer when Shaw was "Corno di Bassetto" as music critic. Vaulted later to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 206-210
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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