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21 - Novels

from PART III - WRITING AND THE ARTS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2015

Richard Farr Dietrich
Affiliation:
University of South Florida
Brad Kent
Affiliation:
Université Laval, Québec
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Summary

Bernard Shaw seldom wrote anything of an artistic nature that was not sui generis, largely because whatever literary conventions he used in his works were often used ironically to expose their inadequacy to convey or depict reality. So it comes as no surprise that while one can identify Shaw's five completed novels, written one a year from 1879 through 1883, as Victorian in general style, with plenty of stilted prose and manners to match, they also have so many non-Victorian elements in them that they too escape the usual genre classifications. Shaw's novels attempted to blend then avant-garde realism with comic fantasy, Dickensian social satire, the novel of ideas, parody of the popular novel, a modernised, anti-sentimental, anti-heroic version of the chivalric romance of Scott, postmodernist self-reference and open-endedness, and other stylistic twists. One of the reasons that it is almost fruitless to look in studies of the Victorian novel for commentary on Shaw's novels may be that even the few scholars who have read them have not found them lending themselves to the usual categories for comparisons with the canonical novelists. With such a hybrid and unique form, a crazy-quilt of straight, parodistic, and self-deconstructive elements, at once Victorian, modernist, and postmodernist in impulse, Shaw might have altered the direction of the British novel had publishers given him an immediate audience. The argument here, in fact, is that his novels are less significant to their Victorian context than they are as anticipations of such ground-breakers of the twentieth-century novel as Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, with its example of autogenesis being foreshadowed by Shaw's novels, which amount to ‘a portrait of the artist as a young superman’, so to speak.

But Shaw's novels were buried at first by total rejection from publishers, and the staggering fact is that he kept going through five seemingly unpublishable novels like a man possessed. Why? And why did it take him so long to turn to drama if, as supposed, drama was his natural medium?

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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References

Dietrich, Richard F.Bernard Shaw's Novels: Portraits of the Artist as Man and Superman. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996.Google Scholar
Grene, Nicholas. ‘The Maturing of Immaturity: Shaw's First Novel’, Irish University Review 20 (1990): 225–38.Google Scholar
Hogan, Robert. ‘The Novels of Bernard Shaw’, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 8 (1965): 63–114.Google Scholar
Miller, Elizabeth Carolyn. Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
Sypher, Eileen. ‘Fabian Anti-Novel: Shaw's An Unsocial Socialist’, Literature and History 11 (1985): 241–53.Google Scholar
Weintraub, Stanley. ‘The Embryo Playwright in Bernard Shaw's Early Novels’, Texas Studies in Literature and Language 1 (1959): 327–55.Google Scholar

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  • Novels
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.023
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  • Novels
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.023
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Novels
  • Edited by Brad Kent, Université Laval, Québec
  • Book: George Bernard Shaw in Context
  • Online publication: 05 October 2015
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107239081.023
Available formats
×