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Book Reviews Lancing G. B. S. Michael Holroyd. Bernard Shaw: Volume II, 1898-1918: The Pursuit of Power. New York: Random House, 1989. 32 plates ix + 421 pp. $24.95 AS THOUGH TO NEST A NUCLEUS in the middle of this middle volume of his biography, Michael Holroyd quotes Shaw admitting to "a horror of biographers," and contends that Shaw, having striven "to recreate the life of G. B. S." through Archibald Henderson, "felt almost as apprehensive of Chesterton's inspiration as he would of St John Ervine's industry and [Frank] Harris's inventions: of any factor that shed light on some independent truth not absorbed in the Shavian dream-reality." Tethering old Ego, gripping a Pocket Freud in one fist and his lance Libido in the other, Holroyd stalks the Cave of the Shavian Psyche, intent on bearding its fabled occupant. Biographer knightserrant questing for Independent Truth in such environs might well be wary. Like Plato's cave, Shaw's is filled with shadows, including those of errant knights. Here, as in any cave, sounds often echo oneself. And does one beard or unbeard a well-bearded, many-seasoned paradoxer ? How may a quester out-joust a spirit who declares that "beauty, purity, respectability, religion, morality, art, patriotism, bravery, and the rest are nothing but words which I or anyone else can turn inside out like a glove"? In the "Bourn!" of the Shavian cave, Freud, Libido, and biographers-errant tend to fall into a muddle. Holroyd scores more points outside the cave. While most of these derive from published sources, he focuses many of them well. For example, by cataloging Shaw's European travels more clearly than other biographers have done, he not only highlights their frequency but also counterpoints Shaw's public role with an intimate sense of his married life—Charlotte compulsive in her wanderlust, desiring to mother her husband and divert him from his work; Shaw usually capitulating (not always unhappy to be on the move), but bringing along work and at times almost relishing mishaps and discomforts. Domestic care girded the public man, but it came at a price. Equally well highlighted are Shaw's talents as a Fabian spokesman , a debater, crusader, journalist, director of plays, and his generosity as a consultant and friend. Sketches of Rodin, Strindberg, Chesterton, and his German translator are so suggestively drawn that 325 ELT: Volume 33:3 1990 one wishes the lengthy treatment of H. G. Wells were reduced to make room for more. Perspectives on others—Beatrice Webb, Harley Granville Barker, Shaw's mother and sister, Erica Cotterill (who pursued him), and Mrs. Patrick Campbell (whom he pursued)—are well balanced and adroitly expressed, as are summaries of Shaw's responses to the Boer War, the problems of Ireland, and World War I. Fittingly, the last is most extensive. In depicting Shaw's vehement criticism of the war, and his fortitude in bearing consequent torrents of abuse (until the war's bloody toll moved many toward his views), the volume 's later pages capture strains of a tragic heroism. For all his skill in conveying figures and events, however, Holroyd has difficulty cohering them. Given Shaw's immense energy and multitudinous activities, how can sequential prose capture the frequent simultaneity of his roles? Organization is a constant challenge . Henderson subdivided his final biography into ten titled "parts" supported by a total of 65 chapters; Hesketh Pearson employed 47 topical categories. In his first volume, Holroyd dodged the problem by providing no table of contents. In Volume II he plays with Contents pages that echo Henderson's, Pearson's . . . and Henry Fielding's. Under six untitled chapters he includes a total of 33 sections, each described in one to five lines: e.g., "Concerning the medical ethics of The Doctor's Dilemma"; "A hectic section that begins with a look into the Rectory at Ayot St Lawrence and a glance through numerous postcards . . ."; "Which takes us outdoors for some alarming road adventures." This cavalier manner indulges the author more than the reader. Chapter divisions seem arbitrary; sections range from the narrowly specific to potpourri. The section descriptions of the table of contents do not appear in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 325-329
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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