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  More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)

More than 5000 entries on the history, culture and life of Britain (published in 1993 by Macmillan, now out of print)
George Bernard Shaw

Anglo-Irish playwright, born in Dublin, who lived in England from 1876. After writing five unsuccessful novels, he began to make his name as a critic, most notably of music and drama. His three years of weekly theatre reviews for the Saturday Review (1895–8) amounted to an impassioned plea for serious plays on moral or political themes instead of the frivolities then in vogue. He was in particular an early champion of the plays of Ibsen.

His own extensive contribution to English drama (some 30 full-length plays) began with what he classed as his three 'unpleasant plays'. These dealt with depressing social problems, such as his first, Widowers' Houses (1892), about a slum landlord, or Mrs Warren's Profession about organized prostitution (written 1893 but banned by the *lord chamberlain). The four 'pleasant plays' which followed, including *Arms and the Man (1894), revealed a more skittish side to the way in which Shaw enjoyed undermining the audience's expectations.

At different levels that remained his motive in such plays as *Major Barbara and *Man and Superman, both first performed in 1905. An oddity in his work was *Heartbreak House (1920), somewhat in the style of Chekhov but with a message. Among his most lasting successes *Pygmalion (1913) is more a comedy of character than ideas, and *Saint Joan (1923) carried him further than usual in the direction of tragedy.

A life-long socialist, he became in 1884 an early and very active member of the *Fabian Society. Other less mainstream causes dear to his heart were vegetarianism and the reform of the perplexing inconsistencies of English spelling. His combination of passion, wit and eccentricity, combined with his command of the provocative paradox, gave him a role in society which he much relished – that of the serious jester. He had prolonged romantic attachments, mainly by letter, with Ellen *Terry and with Mrs Patrick *Campbell. In 1898 he married Charlotte Payne-Townshend (she died in 1943), and in 1906 they moved to *Ayot St Lawrence, where he lived until his death. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1925.

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