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  • Shaw's Mexican Disciple
  • Michel Pharand (bio)
Ramón Layera and Katie Gibson. You Have Nothing to Learn from Me:A Literary Relationship Between George Bernard Shaw and Rodolfo Usigli. Oxford, Ohio: Miami University Libraries, 2011. xi, 54 pages. $8.99.

"I am very very old; and this village is practically inaccessible except to people who can command a private car from door to door. . . . I fear you must wait until the war is over—if I live so long." Shaw was writing, on 23 March 1945, [End Page 190] a fourth rebuff to Mexican writer Rodolfo Usigli (1905-79), who admired, indeed idolized, Shaw and who desperately wanted to meet him.

Usigli had first written to Shaw on 13 November 1944 as "a Mexican playwright passing by London on my way to Paris," where he would be second secretary of the Mexican embassy (1944-46), and on the 17th had received from Blanche Patch, Shaw's secretary, what he called a "bad omen": Shaw was, she informed Usigli, "out of reach in the country." He had tried again on the 20th: "I am a playwright in a desert; in fourteen years I have written some eighteen plays, five or six of which have been produced . . . and four of which have been printed," confessing that "it was reading your plays that I discovered the necessity of writing prefaces and epilogues." Shaw had replied on the 22nd with a postcard: "As you have got much further in your 39th year than I in my 40th you have nothing to learn from me." Undaunted, Usigli had written again on 24 December, Patch replying on 1 January 1945 that Shaw suggested Usigli "wait until the days are longer and the war restrictions lighter."

At the time he was writing these letters to Shaw, Rodolfo Usigli, author of México en el teatro (1932), a history of Mexican drama, was an aspiring playwright who had campaigned for a Mexican national theater and a school for actors and playwrights. Today he is widely regarded as one of the founders of modern Mexican theater—beginning with his signature play, El gesticulador (The Impostor), written in 1938 but published only in 1944 and performed in 1947—and "the playwright of the Mexican Revolution."

Discouraged by Shaw's wartime isolationism yet determined to meet the great man, Usigli decided to venture into the English countryside. On 31 March 1945, a week after Shaw's fourth rebuff, Usigli presented himself unannounced at Ayot St. Lawrence and, to his delight and amazement, was cordially received by a courteous, impeccably dressed Shaw. This meeting and a second impromptu visit a few weeks later on 12 April is the subject of You Have Nothing to Learn from Me, an elegant (and surprisingly affordable) publication highlighting the Shaw-related holdings in the Rodolfo Usigli Archive—ninety boxes containing more than half a million items— acquired in 1995 by Miami University and housed in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections. This keepsake publication, printed on glossy paper and beautifully illustrated with color photographs of Shaw's postcards and notes to Usigli, brings to light the hitherto little-known relationship between the two playwrights.

Usigli's detailed accounts of his two visits to Ayot, written in dialogue form and complemented by extensive commentary, were published in Mexico in the journal Cuadernos americanos in 1946-47, reprinted with Usigli's play Corona de sombra in 1947—a copy of which Usigli would send Shaw—and reprinted in Usigli's book of interviews, Conversaciones y encuentros (1974),1 [End Page 191] with an additional note written on the occasion of Shaw's death (included in this book). Usigli's reminiscences are now available for the first time in English in a lively translation by Ramón Layera, author of Usigli en el teatro (1996) and Rodolfo Usigli, itinerario del intelectual y autor dramático (2011).

What was discussed during their two meetings is related by Usigli from memory and, most likely, from shorthand notes written shortly after the events. Topics discussed range from literature ("never sell the copyright of your work," Shaw cautioned) to Julio Broutá's translations of Shaw's plays into Spanish. To Usigli, they were...


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