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ELT: VOLUME 34:2, 1991 Gordon moves us closer to an understanding of the essential individual Shaw by giving us a key to Shaw's special version of comedy which consists in the unusual mixture of an impulse to transcendence and a rooted conviction that the ground is firm under our feet. Traditional comedy preaches that there is no escape from the body and that the highest wisdom is the humorous acceptance ofthat limitation. Shaw's plays embody that wisdom often, but they also convey strongly a longing for transcendence, "the extravagant idea of marching to the plains of heaven." That idiosyncratic blend certainly marks the characteristic feel of Shavian comedy, and Gordon has well expounded his sense of it. Another way Gordon has of bringing us closer to the essential hterary Shaw is by pointing out that Shaw's socialism in his plays is not a practical program but more a "Utopian desire." Shaw's pohtical polemic , therefore, surpasses propaganda which usually aims at scoring some simple impression on the public's pate; rather, "it is dramatic, resourceful , a mode of action whose interest is fundamentally literary." This, too, is an important point because it correctly aligns Shaw with Tom Stoppard, say, rather than Howard Barker, as a dramatist with a pohtical vision, rather than a pohtical propagandist who writes in dialogue form. Gordon asserts in his introduction that he wants to convince us "that Shaw is a deeper writer than he is widely thought to be." In so far as he demonstrates the consistent preoccupations and power of Shaw's imagination over the length of his long hterary career as embodied in the characteristic figurations and tensions of the plays and in Shaw's realization in dramatic art of that unique mode, "the comic sublime," Professor Gordon has made a forceful and praiseworthy assault against the soulless dismissal of Shaw as a mere boiler of paradoxes and a processor of spoiled plays. John A. Bertolini Middlebury College Alfred Sutro Lewis Sawin. Alfred Sutro: A Man with a Heart. Niwot: University Press of Colorado, 1989. χ + 259 pp. $29.95 ALTHOUGH ALFRED SUTRO (1863-1933) was the author of more than forty plays, he has received scant critical attention. Richard F. Dietrich 202 Book Reviews in his recent British Drama 1890 to 1950 merely mentions Sutro's name twice, while The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre accords Sutro but one four-line sentence; The Oxford Companion to Theatre omits him completely. There are fairly judicious surveys in Allardyce Nicoll's English Drama 1900-1930 and in a six-page essay in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Sawin's critical biography of Sutro, therefore, is the only extensive attempt to present the hfe and career of this contemporary of Shaw, Pinero, and Henry Arthur Jones. Sutro was reasonably successful in his day, particularly in the period leading up to World War I. His plays essentially fall into the wellmade play category, often treating the then-popular subject of adultery in the middle and upper classes. At times his works display touches of Wildean wit, although Sutro was unable to sustain his wit in the same thorough and satisfying manner in which Wilde did. He was probably at his best in such one-act pieces as A Marriage Has Been Arranged, which are more inventive technically than his full-length works and which display an epigrammatic quality. Sawin deals with all Sutro's output, providing detailed plot summaries which are valuable because most readers will not have encountered Sutro's plays. In addition, Sawin provides some critical insights and often combines them with contemporary reactions. Although this methodology becomes somewhat mechanical, it does ensure that all Sutro's work receives adequate attention and does enable the uninitiated to grasp the essentials. Interpolated with this critical overview is a biography of Sutro and it is perhaps in this area that Sawin breaks new ground because he has unearthed a considerable amount of fresh material, most notably previously unpublished correspondence between Sutro and contemporaries such as Pinero, Henry James, and Shaw. (Incidentally, correspondence is set off interestingly in a calligraphy-style typeface. Unfortunately, superscript footnote numbers here and elsewhere in the text merge occasionally...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 202-204
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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