Typos p. 95: self-relevatory [= self-revelatory]; p. 97: Similary [= Similarly]; p. 98: S. O. U. I. [= S. U. I.]; p. 98: feminity [= femininity]; p. 98: Wittel's [= Wittels's]; p. 100: The S. U. P. B. [= The S. U. B. P.]; p. 100: Anglo-Saxons [= Anglo-Saxon]; p. 101: Methusalah [= Methuselah]; p. 101: D.s' D. [= D's. D.]
Sex in the writings of Bernard Shaw *
Anthony M. Ludovici
(with a reply by Bernard Shaw)
The International Journal of Sexology 2, 194849, pp. 93102
- p. 93 -
* To economise space, all works of Mr. Shaw are denoted by initials in the article. For the full titles, refer to the list given at the end.
As a Victorian Liberal he was from the start convinced of much which today has long been challenged and questioned. For instance, he believes in the inevitable sacrifice of women in childbirth, and that for all women, normal or abnormal (I do not mean "average" by "normal"), childbirth is a mortal risk and always a cause of "prolonged suffering" (P. C., M. S., Preface to Three Plays by Brieux). He accepts the popular slogan of his day and class about "the economic slavery of women" (G. M) and never once gets so far as to see in the Home the optimal mise-en-scène for the healthy, well-constituted female, if she is to be able to repeat her full cycle as often as her nature requires it. He never, in fact, recognizes woman's biological need of this repetition if she is to remain healthy and sane. He speaks of her "sacred right" to bear a child, but never of the ineluctable necessity of the function if her sexual life is to be normal. On the contrary, he emphasizes the exclusively spiritual aspects of the "right", which is pure Victorian Liberalism and prudery. He says: "motherhood is an experience necessary to women's complete psychical development and understanding of themselves and others." (G. M.)
So much concerned is he to elevate it all to super-corporeal planes and to keep in step with the sex-phobic middle-class matrons of Kensington drawing-rooms, that he fails to notice the narrowing effect, psychologically, that motherhood entails, and that the staggeringly profound understanding of humanity shown by Emily Bronte to mention only one example is inconceivable in a mother of six. Not that this understanding in women is essential to our welfare, or that we do not prefer its absence plus their children. But this only shows that we cannot have our bread buttered on both sides, and that this emphasis on the alleged psychological increment in motherhood is a middle-class myth.
He takes the Liberal, old-fashioned and Socialist view that prostitution is due to inferior economic conditions among working-class girls which, to say the least, indicates his lack of a historical view of the problem. In M. W. P. he says: "No normal woman would be a professional prostitute if she could better herself by being respectable", and he argues that poverty coupled with sweated labour is the real cause. Now, popular as this attitude may be, especially among middle-class women, it is hardly consistent with the facts. Dr. W. J. Robinson, R. G. Randall, Duchâtelet, Dr. B. A. Bauer, Dr. Bloch and Dr. Helena Deutsch to mention only a few all dispute it. Is Shaw merely romantic in this matter, or is he deliberately trying to please the more credulous and morally indignant among his female public? The one factor that invalidates the latter alternative is Shaw's equally romantic attribution of all crime to bad economic conditions and the poverty they create. But, as the Rev. Thomas Holmes in 1900, Mr. Claud Mullins in 1932, and Lord Byron a century before them, all pointed out, crime may be pursued for the sheer delight of the thing. And many authoritative investigators have come to the same conclusion about at least a good deal of prostitution. We are, therefore, confronted in this matter by an example of Shaw's Socialistic naïveté.
In G. M. (preface), where he returns to the question of prostitution, Shaw claims that it differs from marriage only in the sense in which unorganized casual labour differs from Trade Unionism, and he sees in the achievement of economic independence by women, and the recognition of fertile unions outside marriage, the means whereby a state may be reached which will not be far removed from complete promiscuity, at least for the rich. For then, he says, "only the women whose sole means of livelihood was wifehood would insist on marriage: hence a tendency would set in to make marriage more and more one of the customs imposed by necessity on the poor, whilst the freer forms of unions, regulated no doubt by settlements and private contracts of various kinds, would become the practice of the rich; that is, would become the fashion".
He acknowledges that this would ultimately make marriage disappear altogether; but so completely is he convinced of the justice of the shallow Feminist revolt
Besides, in thus sketching the probable future course of the sex-relationship, he overlooks the fact that marriage, as an institution, can much more easily be dispensed with by the poor than by the rich. As Hocart pointed out years ago, it was most probably among the highest in every community that marriage was felt as a necessity; for it is only at such levels that there are dynasties to secure and legitimate heirs to be obtained, for both family rights, powers and properties. The poor, therefore, having nothing to hand on, and not requiring to be certain about legitimate heirs, were probably induced throughout the early period of civilisation to adopt marriage merely out of snobbery and the desire to imitate their betters. Even so, at first they probably adopted it only sporadically.
But, if we are to believe James Corin and Dr. Fritz Wittels, what an irresistible appeal this prospect of sexual promiscuity must have made to the deepest unconscious impulses of modern woman! For, quite independently, both these investigators came to the conclusion that masculine civilization, by having deprived the average woman of that right of free-mating which the female animal possesses, had become the object of secret and implacable loathing for most of the women of civilized communities: hence the anarchy which prompts the behaviour of all the females in our modern populations, if only the circumstances allow it a chance to do so.
Shaw is consistent in his exaltation of scientific contraception as one of the greatest discoveries of our civilization and the most impressive of our recent triumphs over nature. Evidently, however, his mind is not quite at ease about it; for although, like Havelock Ellis, he nowhere shows that he appreciates the grave menace contraception presents to the normally constituted woman, whose best interests, in the psycho-physical sense, are served by the repeated experience at suitable and regular intervals of her full sexual cycle throughout her reproductive life, nevertheless he has a word of bitter scorn for all those couples (almost all couples today) who use contraception as a routine measure in order to escape parenthood. For in M. S. (Appendix) he speaks of these people as "those degenerates . . . in whom the instinct of fertility has faded into a mere itching for pleasure"; and he adds much too sanguinely in my opinion! that they will ultimately eliminate themselves and leave behind only "the intelligently fertile".
The scorn is good and it is deserved. What surprises one, however, is that, feeling as he does about the routine users of contraception, Shaw could regard it as a desirable innovation, since it came precisely at a time when, as most medical authorities, including Freud, are agreed, the sexual potency of civilized communities was decidedly ebbing and therefore prone, in any event, to fade into a mere itching for pleasure and to seize the means of gratifying that itch without incurring its awkward natural consequences.
In the Preface to M., Shaw makes certain self-revelatory statements which exemplify two of the commonest errors of his judgment and his powers of reasoning. The first of these errors is his proneness always to accept as natural and inevitable the purely local aberrations of his contemporaries in the land of his adoption, and the second is his habit of arguing as if, not the aberrations themselves, but merely their untoward consequences were the evil to be attacked; as who should say that not murder itself but our lack of sympathy for the murdered victim's relatives were the crime to be suppressed. Both of these errors doubtless result from his invincible naïveté. But unfortunately, since the majority of his readers and of the audience at his plays are even more naive than he is, his criticisms of his Age and his suggested reforms are quite commonly allowed to pass as enlightened, if not wise.
What are these self-relevatory statements in the Preface to M.? They relate to Shaw's attitude to children and his description of the way in which adults and children are supposed to react on one another. It will be remembered that throughout the Preface in question, he deals with the problem of Parents and Children and repeatedly emphasizes the incompatibility of the child and the adult. What he says, in fact is this: "Children are a nuisance to their elders and the latter are a nuisance to children."
Never once does it occur to him that he is drawing inferences which, however
Because today the average English mother, as I have again and again pointed out, is relatively senile when her young brood is about her, because, as a rule, she marries much too late and, therefore, experiences her first childbirth long after the optimum age for this first completion of her sex-cycle (and this as I have abundantly proved, is one of the major causes of childbirth casualties, both deaths and mutilations), and because, when her family is still largely infantile she is beginning to grow her first grey hairs, it does not follow in the least that from her particular reactions to the young about her, we may infer that all children are pests to all mothers and tend to drive them distracted. It was she and her like in their hundreds of thousands whom of recent years in these islands Shaw took as his only or principal models. And in accepting them as such and undertaking to generalize on the subject of Parents and Children from such models, he not only acquiesced in the custom of much belated marriage for women, but also incidentally never asked himself whether there might not possibly be a flaw somewhere.
Bear this in mind, reader! And now look at the Preface to M. again and see how differently it rings! Above all, see how differently you feel about Shaw's astuteness and vision! For he should have known that, when he speaks of children being a nuisance to their elders, he had in mind only the woman I have just described and her like.
Shaw believes that children are not bothered with sex and declares the fact that "jealousy is independent of sex is shown by its intensity in children" (O). He seems neither to know nor ever to have observed that children's most savage jealousies are those provoked by their sex difference from either their parents, parent-substitutes, or siblings.
He acknowledges the prevalent sadism of his Age when he says: "We are a cruel nation" (D. D.) and an enormous amount of free sadism i.e., divorced from its normal context in human life colours most of his plays and their least amusing situations. But nowhere does he reveal any understanding of the reasons for this free and ubiquitous sadism, least of all in his women. Even in his prefaces, where he is at liberty to explain, he reveals his readiness to accept lamp-posts as natural growths i.e., he implies that this pervasive sadism, wrested from its proper context, is a feature which may be taken for granted.
Again, he is compelled to admit that "we are, on the whole, an ugly, mean, ill-bred race" (G. M.), but sees no connection between this and random breeding. Yet he condemns random breeding root and branch (M. S.). He sees that it has weakened character, without perceiving the corollary of this in the physical sphere. He is too Liberal to go as far as that. For, when he prescribes for race improvement he recommends mongrelization whilst aiming at raising human mating above the pitfalls of romantic factors.
It is his Liberalism which involves him in the Socratic emphasis on the psyche. Thus he never attains to the wisdom even of latter-day medicine which now regards the human organism as a psychosome of which nothing exclusively psychological or physical may be postulated.
He is opposed to modern marriage and rightly recognizes the "absurdity of the ideal unchangeableness of married people's affections" (G. M.). But he hints, not that it is this absurdity which fosters polyandric and polygynic practices, but that these are due to "the scarcity of husbands and wives of high quality." Unfortunately, he does not define what he means. If he means capable of enduring passion, he may be right. But even if he does, it amounts to no more than saying that sexual attachments would endure if passions endured, which is not too helpful. In view of his Socraticism, one has a shrewd suspicion that here again he is thinking only of the psyche, and that by husbands and wives of high quality, he means people who in all their spare time are resourceful enough to find ever fresh and interesting problems to debate. The incessant debating of his characters, even about matters of passion as in C. for instance lends countenance to this inference, especially as a fear of passion, in its physical aspects, is also common in his men and women.
Generally speaking, his people have to be hard driven before they will surrender
Similary Candida in C. gives the wrong reason for clinging to Morell. If her reasons are honest which, of course, we may doubt, she acts like a welfare worker or a Poor Law Guardian, not like a woman stirred by passion. Again in M. S., John Tanner's marriage to Ann is represented as a "frame-up." Like the sufferer from a phobia of normal sex-relations, he first flees from her in a panic and finally acquiesces in being trapped. It is a page out of a psychiatrist's case-book, not a picture of the traditional healthy male reacting to the "eternal feminine". Yet the latter alternative is the intention. But Tanner, after all, is only Pygmalion Higgins' identical twin. True, we are not told of his mother fixation, but he acts like Higgins who is thus fixated.
Shaw nevertheless sometimes displays genuine understanding of the "eternal feminine". In W. H. Act III, Blanche's handling of Trench is an authentic piece of sound female portraiture. As are also Julia in her scenes with Charteris in the Ph., Jennifer Dubedat in D. D., Louka and Raina in A. M. and "The Woman" in S. U. B. P.
But these life-like portraits are rare in the Shaw Opus and belong chiefly to his earlier plays. As a rule the female portraiture is either caricature or, when faithful, of a type which, however common in modern England, is too aberrant to endure. Given a healthier Age with more happily adapted women, and this gallery of females will hardly be recognizable as such.
The Leit motiv of the whole lot comes explicitly to light in only one play, and it happens for other reasons, to be one of Shaw's best. In the A. B., Cashel says to Lydia: "To be born, not man, but woman. This was thy folly." Now, instead of protesting, as a happily adapted southern woman would have done, by saying: "What are you talking about? My folly indeed: You mean, my wisdom!" What, in fact, does English Lydia reply? Like most Anglo-Saxon and north European women, who are ashamed of their sex and , are secretly tormented by an envy of Man, she replies, in the vein of the Dutch Protestant, Olive Schreiner: "These are not things of choice."
Without demur she thus takes for granted Cashel's implied denigration of her sex and merely exonerates herself from any blame for belonging to it. She does not contest his tacit assumption; she merely reminds him that she is not responsible for having been made a woman.
This is much more significant than Shaw himself appreciated. For, while he here actually depicts the prevailing "masculine protest" in the women of his Age and his plays, he nowhere shows himself aware of how aberrant and local it is. With an affinity of sentiment rooted in his Liberalism, he agrees with the Englishwoman's
But to regard this local and historically limited manifestation as characteristic of the eternal feminine is an insult to women throughout history and, I hope, also the future.
As a Victorian Liberal, entangled in the confusions of Ibsen, however, Shaw, forgetting that he had described the Century of the Woman's Movement as "perhaps the most villainous pages of recorded history", innocently took the equality cry at its face value; unlike Havelock Ellis, saw nothing unreasonable in it, and had not even his suspicions roused by the alacrity with which Englishwomen as a whole seize any opportunity of assuming men's occupations, pastimes and even clothes. Thus he depicted as standardly feminine the women he saw about him, defended their claims and rationalized their unconscious grudges. Moreover, since humour consists chiefly of exorbitant exaggeration, he poured out a stream of hyperbolical arguments, strained situations and corresponding parables, calculated to justify and abet the equality clamour and also to salve and soothe the bitterest secret resentments of his female contemporaries.
Thus his claim was both to prove the obviousness of the equality Englishwomen demanded and to make us believe that the traditionally accepted behaviour of the female is more often seen in the male and vice-versâ.
For instance, many more men than women weep in Shaw's plays. In C., both Eugene and Morell weep. In the B. E., General Strammfest weeps. In C. B. C., Drinkwater weeps in Acts II and III. In the S. O. U. I., nobody weeps except the Emigration Officer and Iddy the clergyman. In M. S., no one weeps except Octavius (Acts II and IV). In the S. O. C., Edward III, one of our manliest kings, weeps at the beginning and the end of the play.
Women seldom weep and never under ordinary provocation. The exceptions are Jennifer Dubedat in D. D. and Essie and Judith in The D's. D. The tears of Mrs. Dudgeon and Mrs. Titus in this play are perfunctory.
Furthermore, the women are everywhere aggressive, overbearing and bullying. As wives they either henpeck or manage. Magaera in A. L., Eliza Doolittle in P., Fanny and her supporters in S. U. B. P., Lady Britomart in M. B., St. Joan, Vivie in M. W. P., Lina Szczepanowska in M., Margaret in F. F. P., Ariadne Utterwood and her sister Hesione in H. H., the Great Catherine, Cleopatra, Lady Waynflete in C. B. C., Ann in M. S., Queen Philippa in S. O. C., Savvy in B. to M., Blanche in W. H., all are either viragoes or sadists. They bluster like swashbucklers and "throw their weight about" to the consternation of their meek and masochistic menfolk.
"The Woman" in the S. U. B. P., is almost the only woman in the whole opus who is gentle and compassionate. True, she happens to be a mother, but no connection is suggested between these facts. Where the aggressiveness reaches sadistic extremes, the intention is less to denigrate women than to debunk the traditional view of feminity.
St. Joan, with her insatiable appetite for slaughter, is an example. But Shaw never appears to appreciate the abnormality of it; for all his sadistic women stand for the Universal Feminine. One fact among many others which he omits about Joan, though it gives countenance to Dr. Fritz Wittel's remarks about her mortal hatred of men her deliberate decapitation of the gallant Franquet d'Arras for the sin of having been defeated by her band of fanatical highwaymen indicates more than anything I could say the fundamental infantile aggressiveness of her nature.
In W. H., Blanche savagely assaults her adoring personal maid. True, Shaw denied that he wished to portray women's general behaviour in Blanche's "brutal violence" to her servant. But the character giving rise to the scene is so common in the plays that we cannot help suspecting that Shaw
In F. F. P., Margaret is ecstatic over having knocked out a policeman's teeth. She says: "The one thing that gave me any satisfaction was getting that smack in his mouth." She ultimately buys one of the two broken teeth for ten shillings. Later on, in a quarrel with her young man, she cries in the bullying tones of Shaw's everyday womenfolk: "If you don't take care, the policeman's tooth will only be the beginning of a collection."
In H. H., Ariadne and her sister Hesione are, with abundant justification, both called cruel by Randall and Mangan, and Hesione declares that "Cruelty would be delicious if you could only find some sort of cruelty that didn't really hurt." The last part of the sentence is pure eyewash, of course. But Hesione and her creator know that.
In C. C., Cleopatra's first thought as a Queen is to beat her nurse and then a Nubian slave."I will beat somebody," she cries."I will beat him." Of her future husbands, she says: "I will have many young kings with round strong arms, and when I am tired of them I will whip them to death."
All this is unsupported by history, for Cleopatra was not exceptionally cruel. Shaw is thinking of the sadistic sterile women of the Roman Empire.
In B. to M. (Act II, Part IV), the Oracle tries to kill Napoleon i.e., she is given the ideal situation for the average modern woman burning with androphobia. (See Chap. IV, pp. 99101 of My Enemies of Women).
Those of Shaw's women who are not sadistic are always aggressive or schoolmarmish. Even Queen Philippa, in the S. O. C., is gratuitously drawn as a henpecking wife. Peter, one of the six bourgeois, jeers at Edward III and calls him "a henpecked husband." What is the evidence? Merely that Philippa, who was then pregnant, induced Edward III to spare six condemned men. In doing this she had but seconded Edward's barons, knights and squires who had already implored him to hold his hand. Sir Walter Mauny in particular had made an eloquent plea for mercy. If then Edward III was henpecked, he was also baron-knight and squire-pecked. But we know he was not. So that the alleged "henpecking" is pure myth, though it is part of Shaw's scheme everywhere to belittle the male vis-à-vis of the female.
It happens in all the plays. In St. Joan, history is travestied to secure the same effect. Joan is declared the equal of Napoleon and Wellington. Shaw says: "Caesar and Cleopatra and St. Joan are fully documented chronicle plays. Familiarity with them would get a student safely through examination papers on their periods." Yet, in Scene II of St. Joan the Dauphin is made to declare: "I have given the command of the Army to the Maid." Now any student who followed Shaw in this matter alone would inevitably find himself ploughed. For Joan never was in command of the French army. Nor was she ever given the command. The King gave her the rank of chef de guerre and as such she describes herself in her letter to Henry VI. But in the 15th century this rank equalled only a colonel in the royal armies of the 18th century. In 1424 her first company could hardly have numbered more than fifteen men. Even at the end, in May 1430, it amounted to no more than three or four hundred.
But if Joan is to be as good if not better than Napoleon or Wellington, such facts are inconvenient, especially as her story has to fit all the other stories in which women outdo men.
The Polish virago in M. is an example, as are also, as we have seen, Margaret in F. F. P., the two female leads in H. H., the woman in The M. O. D. (who is Napoleon), the woman in A. D. H. B., Lady Cicily Waynflete in C. B. C., and Ann in M. S. The very title of this play Man = Male, Superman = Female is significant. In C. B. C., Lady Cicily, moreover, is said to have "more sense in her wedding-ring finger than the British Admiralty has in its whole constitution." Shaw also depicts her as able to correct her brother, a High Court Judge, on a point of law.
To Candida, her menfolk are but pawns on a chess-board. Napoleon, Caesar, Pra, William II of Germany, Tanner, Randall, Edward III, are all out-manoeuvred or sat on by women Shaw sets against them. In B. to M. (Act II) a quite gratuitous reference is made to an eternal "enmity
This one sentence may not be the quintessence of Shaw, but it is certainly the quintessence of his success.
Clearly, then, with a reading public and playgoers consisting, as in England they do, chiefly of women aching with secret penis envy, the above sentiments, situations and characters inevitably came as balm to a wound, as H2O to a desert.
As a popular appeal to the majority it was fool-proof and could not fail. This explains much which, to an enlightened posterity, will prove an inscrutable mystery about Shaw.
Let me, however, warn him or her who is wont to take great contemporary reputations for granted and infer from repeated references to a man in the Press that he must be great, that what I am about to say is sure to sound strange and questionable. But if such a reader will hear me out, especially when I confess that only yesterday, before my exhaustive study of Shaw, I too stood where he or she stands; if such a reader will believe me when I add that my surprise at finding my study did not confirm the general view, was genuine and profound, I think I may be able to help him or her to grasp much which at present eludes the average person's notice.
Now, if we may count on an enlightened posterity, which is by no means a certainty, one of the deepest mysteries confronting it about Shaw will be the immense success he enjoyed despite his generally mediocre work. In short, if they are wiser than ourselves, what our grandchildren will want to know will be: why, in his day, was Shaw so grossly overrated.
This sounds almost perverse. But, remember, I am not speaking of obscure texts which only a few erudite scholars can decipher. Shaw's works are accessible to all in a language understood by hundreds of millions. And yet I stake my reputation as an intelligent writer on what I have said. The whole opus rarely rises above mediocrity and is preponderatingly beneath it.
Let anyone who starts indignantly at this try, for a while, to forget all he has heard about Shaw and read him through, as I have done, from end to end. And if he does not agree with me let him jeer at me to his heart's content.
I concede a certain quality in The S. U. P. B., The A. B., The D. 's D. (in part), P., M. B. (some scenes), A. M. (some scenes), The D. D., St. Joan (Sc. I. only), and The A. C. (2 scenes). I also acknowledge the quality of two One Act farces, H. H. L. H. H., and above all, P. P. P., or the F. G.
Of the whole lot, I confess I prefer the first two, though I do not regard them either as epoch-making or great enough to account for Shaw's reputation. In assessing Shaw's merits, we should moreover consider these few better plays in conjunction with the rest. But what are we to think of a man who cheerfully owns his responsibility for such plays as O., G. M., Ph., P. C., The F. F., The M. C., M., G. C., The I. O. P., The M. O. D., The B. E., C. C., The S. U. I., The S. O. C., St. J. (all but first scene), J. B. O. I., M. B. (last act) and, above all, The MIL. There is hardly even one good joke in any of them.
These plays would alone suffice to set a prominent question mark against an author's greatness; but in conjunction with that incredibly flat and soporific production B. to M., Shaw's reputation becomes not only an enigma, but also a profound mystery.
What is the solution of this mystery? It can be read between all the above lines, and is as follows:
To modern Anglo-Saxon and North-European women (but mainly the former), aching, as we know the majority to be, with secret penis envy and resentment at being females, nearly everything Shaw says, and nearly all his situations and scenes, are exactly calculated to gratify their deepest feelings and give expression to their most cherished desires. That, and that alone, solves the mystery. But how did it ensure Shaw's vogue and success? To understand this we must bear in mind that in all Anglo-Saxons and most Protestant countries, it is always the women who decide:
(a) Which general practitioner shall visit the house professionally.
(b) Which books shall be read and recommended.
(d) Which "nice" people shall be invited to the house.
(e) Which sewage-saturated surf shall be bathed in during the summer holidays.
(f) Which Caesar shall be liquidated. (Knowing the women of England's decadence as I do, I am persuaded that the women of the Roman decadence resembled them and that Porcia, Junta Tertia, and their lady friends had therefore more to do with Julius Caesar's murder than we are told).
Shaw does not appear to know all this. But he certainly acted as if fully aware at least of (c). In the Preface to Three Plays For Puritans, he shows himself well aware of the fact that "in the long lines of waiting playgoers lining the pavements outside our fashionable theatres . . . the men are only the currants in the dumpling. Women are in the majority." So that even if he did not know that, in addition, it is the women in the home who decide which plays are to be seen, as early as 1900 he wrote as if this further fact were also familiar to him.
Perhaps posterity, in any event, would have contrived to solve the mystery of Shaw's contemporary fame along these lines. But for fear lest they might not, the above, I hope, will help them. It is the more necessary seeing that Shaw himself has told us how his success has been achieved. In the Preface to Three Plays For Puritans, after extolling the power of advertisement, he says: "Accordingly, I have advertised myself so well that I find myself, while still in middle life, almost as legendary a person as the Flying Dutchman." And, to illustrate his meaning, he adds with great truth, "Were I to republish Buckstone's Wreck Ashore as my latest comedy, it would be hailed as a masterpiece of perverse paradox and scintillating satire."
Let posterity, therefore, beware. Such statements though true, are not the whole truth. The whole truth, I submit, is chiefly as I have stated it.
Be this as it may, to write about Sex in the Writings of Bernard Shaw and to omit any mention of the connection of his attitude to sex with his otherwise unaccountable triumph, seemed to me to amount to shirking an essential part of my task, more especially as his very success in an Age like ours must shed much light on the subject with which I am concerned. That is why, although I could have said more about him which was relevant to this article, I felt myself bound at least to explain to the few independents in the reading and theatre-going public what in spite of the vast and arid waste forming a large proportion of his oeuvre, abundantly accounts for his extraordinary vogue.
- p. 102 -
Bernard Shaw replies
I am more than pleased to hear from Ludovici again after his long silence, and am flattered to be his theme in succession to Nietzsche. He has gulped down all my works at a single draught, and remembers them better than I do; for I have never in my life read them except at long intervals in proofsheets. His knowledge of them amazes me. In fact he knows too much to be always intelligible. If he sometimes bewilders me, what must be his effect on the general reader?
We are both old Victorians; but whereas I, being specifically playwright, story teller, and generally an artist-metabiologist, am, like Shakespeare, not for an age but for all time, he dates a bit as a nineteenth century Rationalist criticizing philosophy from the Rationalist point of view, and demanding from every sociologist a general theory, an inference, a deduction, a syllogism answering and explaining the riddle of the universe. When people write to me, as they do every week, asking why I do not solve the riddle of the universe, I reply "Because I don't know the answer, and neither do you nor anyone else."
In my works sex is a fact which I have to postulate without accounting for on any rational ground. I observe it without understanding it or pretending to understand it. Ludovici is in exactly the same predicament, though he does not seem to realize this, and implies that an obsession with such trivialities as the fancies of some little girls and the occasional incestuous fixations called Oedipus complexes are fundamental explanations of sex.
The facts of sex defy every effort to deduce a general rational theory from them: they vary with utter inconsistency; and Ludovici's complaint that I have not generalized Ann Whitefield and Joan of Are into a single sexual type dominated by an unmentionable envy complex is conceivable only in a frame of reference much too small for me. I might as well complain that when Nietzsche's character was in question in 191418, Ludovici did not generalize into a single human type the partisans who demonstrated respectively that Nietzsche was a murderous blonde beast and a Pacifist humanitarian.