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' \ I., :• . I , ~~-.· r I' I t· , ! • r I I '' :, I : ' I ,. ' I .·, ~ / . . l I U I •' I •' [ . ' I , , 1 ., ., THE NOVELS OF GEQRGE BERNARD SHAW .\ CLAUDE T. BISSELL l JN the L~ndon of the Iat~ sey~nties, it was inevitable ~hat. a Y?ung man, · determmed upon a senous literary career, should try h1s hand at the· writing of novels. For this was an age when the novelist could aim at distinction and, at the same time, reasonably hope for popularity: :nobody,.it is £rue, had ·yet taken the place of Thackeray and Dickens, but George Eliot and Anthony Trollope were still alive, and George Meredith. was just entering upon the era of his greatest popular success. ·In 1879, George Bernard Shaw was a young Irish im~igrant of twenty-three, .who since his · arrival in London three years before had been frequenting artistic and literary circles, and who accordingly. feit that his tale~ts and his rich ex- ' perience of life could find a triumphant issue in the writing of novels. Until / 1883 he devoted 'himself almost entirely to the realization of this purpose. The results were, at least, a tribute to his pertinacity and industry; undeterred by a monotonous succession of refusals -from unenlightened publishers, he continued "to fill five pages ... a day, rain or shine, dull or inspired,"1 and in five years turned out five novels. Today the novels have taken their place in. the Standard Edition, not merely as the Ju.veniliaof a great artist, but as works that have considerable merit in their own right. I do not propose, however, to follow those critics 'Yho ·have sought .to add another reputation to the many that Shaw has already acquired and have thrust him, belatedly, into the ranks of the great English novelists.11 It is m/purpose rather: to show how invaluable these early works are for the understanding of Shaw's intellectual and artistic development. Shaw's first novel, written in 1879, was called with "merciless fitness,"3 ' Immaturity , and was, among other things, a conscientious attempt to fulfil Victorian requirements of length and solidity; it is divided into fourJong - 'books, ·and it,is conceivable that the young author envisaged its inclusion in .Mr. Iy.Iudie's Select Lending Library of three-volunie novels. In Irmna-~ turity Shaw made his :first and only attempt in a novel to come to grips with lower middle class life; the opening book is called "Islington;" and the chara i ' ., . ·. . ' \.I··, I ',· ' .. .~ 44 THE ·UNIVERSIT'f 'OF. TORONTO- QUARTERLY I I ' - '\... ,· select -boarding-school · for girls in th~ co·untry to West,End London mansions, and thence to the country home of a nobleman. The hero, ...: Sidney Trefusis, may be a ' thorough:-going socialist, but .he is also a l ha~dsome . young man of great we'alth, ~n inveterate philanderer, and a" Shelley-like romant. ic who fancies himself as a l~tter-day messiah. "With my egotism," he says, "my charlatanry, my tongue, and my habit of having my own. way, I am .:fit for no calling ·but that of saviour of mankind."l8· Whether. we . r~ad An U,;social So~ialist as serious social criticism· or 'light romantic' comedy, or, best of all~ gladly embrace and enjoy .the two extremes, we must admit, I .think, that this novel reveals an artist who has·.discovered himself, who writes always with· sureness ·and often with commanding power. It is not surprising, therefore, that An Unsocial Socialist' is the ch~}y: ·one of the five novels, with the possible exception of Cashel· Byron's Profession, that has found .a place in the popular Shaw canon. . From this. analysis it can be seen that the first three novels-Immaturity., The Irrational Knot, and Love amo'ng the Artists-have quali'ties in common that mark them off sharply from the last two novels-Cashe/ Byron's Profession and An Unsocial Socialist. The :first three novels, for instance, .are :relentlessly serious in tone; wit o(a heavy,'intellectu~l kind there is·in plenty, but no escapes into a world of comic fancy. The very reverse is true .of the last two novels: I they are creations...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 38-51
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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