Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
George Bernard Shaw was born on July 26, 1856, in Dublin, Ireland. Considerably younger than her husband, Shaw’s mother, Lucinda Elizabeth, was the daughter of an Irish landowner. Shaw’s father, George Carr Shaw, was the son of a failed Dublin stockbroker; he was also a weak and ineffectual man, given to drowning his sorrow in alcohol. Before the author was born, his own father had retired from his work as a civil servant and had become a corn merchant, which proved an unsuccessful venture. As a result, much of Shaw’s childhood was plagued by his family’s financial concerns.
Although they lived in Ireland, the Shaws were Protestants, and George Bernard was baptized in the Church of England; however, the boy was never very religious and did not enjoy attending church. He also did not enjoy his formal education, even though he attended several different schools. He started at the Wesleyan Connexional School and ended his fifteenth year at the Dublin English Scientific and Commercial Day School.
For the most part, Shaw’s childhood was unhappy. By the time he was fifteen, his parents’ marriage had broken up. His mother deserted her husband and went off to England to live with her two daughters. Shaw left school to support himself, working as a clerk and cashier for a firm of land agents for nearly four and a half years. During this period, Shaw read voraciously and often frequented the theatre. He was especially interested in Shakespearean plays. Shaw also had a love of music, for his father played the trombone, and his mother was an excellent singer.
In 1876, Shaw’s sister Agnes died from consumption at the age of nineteen. Torn by her early death, Shaw left Ireland and joined his mother and Lucy in London. His intention was to immediately become a musician or a painter; however, Shaw, an acutely shy young man, did not adjust well to the liberal London atmosphere and could not find a place in the arts community there. To support himself, he undertook a variety of odd jobs, including writing a series of articles as a music critic. From November 1876 to July 1878, Shaw wrote his articles under the pseudonym of Lee and published them in a weekly paper called The Hornet. After working for two years at the Edison and Bell Telephone Company , he left in 1880 to establish himself as a writer. As he began his writing career, Shaw was financially dependent on his mother. When his articles were repeatedly rejected by newspapers and magazines, he decided to become a novelist. Although his first novel was rejected by all the publishers, Shaw continued to write, producing four more novels between 1880 and 1883; he was also unable to find a publisher for any of them. Finally, in 1886, Shaw published his first novel, Cashel Byron’s Profession, which was a popular success. A year later, in 1887, he published An Unsocial Socialist. His career as a novelist then came to an end.
Shaw finally obtained regular work as a journalist with the help of William Archer. From 1888 to 1890, he wrote as a music critic, under the name of "Corno di Bassetto," for The Star, the evening paper of London. Shaw also served as a drama critic for The Saturday Review for several years. His insightful articles on theater are collected in Our Theatre in the Nineties, published in three volumes in 1932.