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  • Bernard Shaw:Dégringolade and Derision in Dublin City
  • Peter Gahan (bio)

Except in my secret self I was not happy in Dublin; and when ghosts rise up from that period I want to lay them again with the poker.

—Bernard Shaw to Ada Tyrrell, 28 January 1928

No man prefers the city that conquered him to the city he conquered.

—Bernard Shaw, as quoted in Frank Harris, Bernard Shaw (1931)

London and Dublin

Over his ninety-four years, Bernard Shaw lived in two cities: Dublin and London, both of which he knew intimately. He spent the first twenty entirely in Dublin. Except when traveling, the next seventy were split between London and his English country residence in the village of Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire.

Carol Fabricant argues in her revelatory Swift's Landscape (1982) that, compared to the ideologically-based pastoral poetry of Alexander Pope, the rhetoric of landscape that emerges from Jonathan Swift's texts is more realistic, being comprised of the degraded excremental cityscapes of Dublin and London as well as the uncultivated, impoverished, and ravaged (by famines) Irish countryside.1 While Shaw is seldom as viciously satirical, Swift is probably his closest equivalent in Irish literary history, what with their involvement at the very heart of English politics, their distanced ironical temperament and righteous indignation, and their power of invective allied to a practical will to improve urban social conditions. [End Page 39]

They belonged equally in both cities, Dublin and London, being born in the former and becoming famous in the latter, though Swift—unlike Shaw—would live out most of his life in Dublin. If we try to determine Shaw's landscape from his plays, as Fabricant does with the writings of Swift, it would likewise be more urban than rural, and be representative of London, not Dublin. Clearly the topography of urban London constitutes Shaw's landscape as it emerges from his dramatic corpus, while Dublin figures there not at all, not even in his major Irish play, John Bull's Other Island (1904). Especially in his years tramping the English capital as a socialist speaker, Shaw had got to know his adopted city well, better than most natives. London frequently figures as the setting in Shaw's plays, most often as specified streets or areas of the city, without any such specified location being repeated. The closest Shaw came was when he placed Higgins's consulting rooms and residence in Pygmalion (1912) in Wimpole Street, the street adjacent to Queen Anne Street, which had been the location of Ridgeon's rooms in The Doctor's Dilemma (1907). Taken together, these London locations with their myriad associations (both loose and direct), comprising the posh streets of the professions in Central London, the government offices of Whitehall in Westminster, and the poorer districts in the East End as well as the airier suburbs to the West, constitute what may be called the Shavian city. The following is a list of specified London locations in Shaw's plays:

Widowers' Houses:

Surbiton; Bedford Square.

The Philanderer:

Ashley Gardens, Victoria; Saville Row.

Mrs Warren's Profession:

New Stone Buildings, Chancery Lane.

Candida:

Victoria Park, North East London.

The Admirable Bashville:

Islington.

Man and Superman:

Portland Place; Richmond.

John Bull's Other Island:

Great George Street, Westminster.

How He Lied to Her Husband:

Cromwell Road.

Major Barbara:

Wilton Crescent; West Ham.

The Doctor's Dilemma:

Queen Anne Street (in "the doctors' quarter between Cavendish Square and the Marylebone Road"); Richmond; Bond Street.

Press Cuttings:

War Office (Horse Guards Avenue, Whitehall).2

The Dark Lady of the Sonnets:

The Palace, Whitehall.

Getting Married:

Chelsea.

The Fascinating Foundling:

Office of Lord Chancellor (Selborne House, Victoria Street).

Fanny's First Play:

Denmark Hill, South London.

Pygmalion:

Covent Garden; Wimpole Street; Chelsea Embankment. [End Page 40]

Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas:

Hampstead Heath.

The Apple Cart:

The Royal Palace (not specified, possibly Buckingham Palace, Westminster, or Palace of St. James's, Pall Mall).

On the Rocks:

Downing Street.

The Millionairess:

Lincoln's Inns Fields; Commercial Road, East End.

Buoyant Billions:

Belgrave Square.

Even Shaw's "Irish" play, John Bull's Other Island, is included in the above list of London locations, as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 39-58
Launched on MUSE
2012-09-11
Open Access
No
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