Criticism, 1950-2013

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During the first half of the twentieth century, Shaw became one of the most celebrated, commented on, and quoted literary figures of the age. In the public domain and in theatrical circles he was widely regarded as a major contributor to the English dramatic tradition, and as belonging to the international company of playwrights such as Ibsen, Strindberg, Wilde, Chekhov, and Pirandello as creators of some of the classics of modern drama. In the sub-title of his third large-scale biographical work on Shaw, published in 1956, Archibald Henderson boldly, if controversially, named him 'man of the century'. But the recognition and acclaim accorded to Shaw in the outside world was not widely echoed in the groves of academe. On the contrary, Shaw was largely ignored in the dominant critical discourses of the mid-twentieth-century. In the introduction to his 1953 collection of essays on Shaw, Louis Kronenberger justifiably remarked that 'what stands forth glaringly is the extent to which Shaw has not been written about – that is to say, by the most influential of our serious critics'. Mid-twentieth-century Anglophone literary criticism was a high culture, the boundaries of which were jealously protected by its academic exponents. In England and the British Commonwealth, and in many leading universities in America, the core subject of study comprised authors judged to be the major figures in the English literary tradition. Several departments of drama had been established in England and North America. But in departments of English, partly because of concerns about study of works in translation, modern drama was a neglected field. University English syllabuses in the 1950s rarely included study of Shaw, and hostility towards him was common in academic circles. The Cambridge critic F. R. Leavis, an influential and, to many teachers and students, inspiring figure, did not write any extensive essays on Shaw. But in 1956 he used the occasion of reviewing a collection of essays by D. H. Lawrence, including 'A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover', to launch a fierce attack on Shaw, in which he wrote: 'What repels Lawrence in Shaw is what [one of the editors] Mr. [H. F.] Rubinstein acclaims as the triumph of reason. It is the automatism, the emptiness and the essential irreverence – all that makes Shaw boring and cheap; the emotional nullity'.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGeorge Bernard Shaw in context
EditorsBrad Kent
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9781107239081
ISBN (Print)9781107047457
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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