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GB Shaw – A literary giant

George Bernard Shaw is one of the giants of Irish literature, and over a long life of 94 years he was a prodigious writer of plays, letters and an ardent socialist.

33 Synge Street, Dublin

33 Synge Street, Dublin

He was born in 33 Synge Street on 26th July 1856 to George Shaw, a grain merchant, and Lucinda Gurly, a professional singer. He attended Wesley College and later a private school in Dalkey. Although he had a lifelong love of learning he disliked formal education considering ‘Schools and schoolmasters prisons and turnkeys.’ Later, in 1895, he was a co-founder of the London School of Economics.

He went to London in 1876 and joined his mother who had moved there with her voice teacher George Vandeleur Lee four years earlier. Most of his early years there were spent in various libraries reading the works of great dramtists, and visiting thestres. His early novels were rejected by publishers, but he began to make a living by writing critical reviews for London magazines.

In 1892 his first play Widowers’ Houses, a sharp attack on slum landlords, opened in the Royal Theatre on 9th December. He considered it one of the worst plays that he ever wrote, but by the mid-1890s he was one of the most popular and successful playwrights in London. Works like Mrs Warren’s Profession, Arms and the Man and Candida drew critical reviews for their incisive commentaries on class-structure, morals and the prevailing social issues. This is often considered his greatest contribution to the dramatic art.

In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in 1938 had the rare distinction of becoming the only person to also win an Academy Award for his work on the film of his play Pygmalion. This was later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady in 1956 and as movie of the same name in 1964.

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

In 1906 he moved to the small village of Ayot St Lawrence, north of london, and lived there for the rest of his life. The house is called Shaw’s Corner and his ashes, with those of his wife Charlotte, were scattered along the footpaths and garden they loved.


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