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1 T Exasperated Admiration:     Bernard Shaw on Queen Victoria I n 1882, Cetewayo, King of the Zulus, was captured by the British. Brought to London to be impressed by English might at its peak before being restored to his diminished throne, he appeared tall and broad, and considered himself, at fifty-two, an “old man.”That August he had an audience with Queen Victoria, arriving in what the Queen called “a hideous black frock [coat] and trousers” over a colorful native tunic. Writing his fourth novel then (publishers had rejected the first three) in the quiet of the great domed British Museum Reading Room, a twenty-six-year-old Irishman with literary aspirations named Bernard Shaw put the Zulu king into his story, inventing a Colonial Office dilemma as to how to entertain Cetewayo. In the novel, Cashel Byron’s Profession, where the hero’s profession is the socially unacceptable one of prizefighting,Cetewayo is taken to the ring to see what Cashel and his opponent—allegedly the two brawniest ­ Englishmen— could endure. Shaw’s Zulu chieftain fears for his health in the polluted air of London, “filthy with smoke,” and fears for his life when he learns that European monarchs are the shooting targets of their citizens—that even “the queen of England, though accounted the safest of all, was accustomed to this variety of pistol practice.”1The episode was Shaw’s first published reference to QueenVictoria. In his allusion toVictoria’s having become “accustomed” to assassination attempts—there had been seven of them—a tone of awe on the part of the young socialist and republican was palpable. Shaw might not admire the Queen’s politics nor the institution she symbolized, but he recognized thatVictoria was a formidable lady. He would become the only Marxist member of her admiration society. When preparations began to mark Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, Shaw found himself suddenly writing again about his Queen. By the autumn of 1886 his five novels had all failed, only Cashel Byron managing a meager commercial success—not enough to warrant further attempts in fiction. Farewell,Victoria! 2 The fifth, An Unsocial Socialist, with a Marxist republican hero, was hardly noticed when published. To support himself, Shaw had taken to literary journalism, writing anonymous art reviews for the World and anonymous book reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette. The payment was meager—sometimes only a few shillings—but it kept him alive. He also wrote execrable political doggerel that no one would publish—at least not until the afternoon Star sought material. But whether Shaw published anonymously or pseudonymously, Queen Victoria would not hear of him, and although he was famous by the time she died at the turn of the century, almost certainly he was still unknown to her.Yet Shaw would be, throughout a life even longer than her own, a perceptive commentator on her life and reign. Anticipating the Jubilee, the autumn publishing season in 1886 spawned book after book on the Queen. One, Fifty Years of a Good Queen’s Reign, by A. H. Wall, was offered to Shaw for an unsigned notice in the Pall Mall Gazette.2 As assignments went, it was one of his better ones—he was sometimes asked to make a paragraph out of a bushel of privately printed poetry or out of forgettable novels with such titles as Fatal Bonds and The Evil Genius.The Queen, at least, was a real human being, although Shaw found her fast disappearing into myth. “With her merits,” he wrote sardonically in his Gazette review, we are all familiar, and may expect to be more so before the last Jubilee bookmaker has given the throne a final coat of whitewash. We know that she has been of all wives the best, of all mothers the fondest, of all widows the most faithful. We have often seen her, despite her lofty station, moved by famines, colliery explosions, shipwrecks and railway accidents; thereby teaching us that a heart beats in her Royal breast as in the humblest of her subjects. She has proved that she can, when she chooses, put off her state and play the pianoforte , write books, and illustrate them like any common lady novelist. We can all remember how she repealed the Corn Laws, invented the steam locomotive, and introduced railways; devised the penny post, developed telegraphy, and laid the Atlantic cable; how she captured Coomassie and Alexandria, regenerated art by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, speculated in Suez Canal...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780944318478
Related ISBN
9780944318256
MARC Record
OCLC
830023703
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-18
Language
English
Open Access
No
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