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ELT: VOLUME 34:2, 1991 Gibbs's compendium is well worth consulting, and hkely to be used far more than the touted works about Shaw. Stanley Weintraub Pennsylvania State University Shaw and the Comic Sublime David J. Gordon. Bernard Shaw and the Comic Sublime. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. viii + 218 pp. $39.95 THIS NEW BOOK on Shaw immediately distinguishes itself from the recent breeze of biographical and bibliographical Shaviana by dedicating itself to the proposition that Shaw is a dramatic poet or he is nothing. And Gordon means it—he's quite right, too. By claiming for Shaw the identity of dramatic poet—Shaw's self-description by the way—Gordon means that Shaw's plays are "deeply imaginative because they dramatise the varieties of . . . psychological action in symbolic form." Moreover, Gordon conceives of an author as "a field force organizing hterary structures characteristically"; he wants to show how Shaw's "character is implicated" in his plays and how Shaw "creates thereby a mythology of self." Luckily, "this does not require us to interpret his work biographically." What it does require Gordon to do is to show what those characteristic structures are, and he attempts to do so by means of a taxonomy of the "comic subhme." Gordon's use of the term "subhme" is somewhat speciahzed in that he means by it "a quest for a conflict-annulling transfiguration of the commonplace, purchased inevitably at the cost of a certain repression." He combines this meaning of subhme with "comic" because he finds simultaneously in Shaw a counter-movement of "ridicule or contrary argument or exposure of what is necessarily incomplete" in the quest. Thus Shaw's realism battles with his idealism, and Gordon finds this mixing it up to be characteristic of Shaw's particular kind of comedy. Gordon goes on to distinguish three versions of the Shavian sublime: in the first "heroic will attains definition from its very rejection of the conventional," that is the subhme is instanced in the renunciation of "mere happiness" for the sake of some kind of greatness; in the second, there is "an interaction between figures representing higher and lower levels of moral awareness" but "the heroic will itself is fragmented" and must now "wrestle for integration"; in the third more darkly ironic 200 Book Reviews version (which Gordon adapting Harold Bloom describes as "visionary scepticism"), "The subhme is a totahsing gesture of mind and language that masters a threat to the ego and thereby expands and fortifies it," but not before learning "the radical incompleteness of the self." If all of this sounds "abstract and metaphysical" (as Don Juan's arguments did to the Commander), it is mainly confined to the introduction . Thereafter, Gordon gets down to discussing the actualities of the plays themselves—almost all of them—in light of his theory of Shaw's invention of a comic subhme. The theory of course fits some plays better than others. Mrs. Warren's Profession, for example, is genuinely illuminated in a new way by Gordon's presentation of Vivie's victory over her mother as a somewhat "chilling" isolation. Vivie only reaches the plains of heaven "by renunciation of the beautiful." Some other Shaw plays are not so well served by Gordon, which is only to say perhaps that I think they are better or more interesting plays than he does. The mystery οι Candida, for example, is not solved for me by Gordon's explanation of the secret in the poet's heart as follows, "that the poet—Marchbanks or Shaw—will continue to carry a Candida-figure in his imagination." When Shaw wrote to the Rugby schoolboys who had asked him what the secret was, he said that every reader who buys the book is entitled to fit the ending with his or her own meaning, and thereby hinted that the secret was its own unknowability. Getting Married, Misalliance, The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet, and Fanny's First Play come under particularly severe criticism from Gordon for thinness, complacency, adolescent feehng—but I say any play that like King Lear offended Leo Tolstoy, as Blanco Posnet did, must be of more consequence than Gordon aUows...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 200-202
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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