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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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George Bernard Shaw Wins the Nobel Prize in Literature

George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic and polemicist, wins the Nobel Prize in Literature on November 11, 1925. Born in Dublin on July 26, 1856, Shaw is the only person to receive both a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Oscar (1938), for his work on the film Pygmalion, the adaptation of his play of the same name.

Shaw’s influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extends from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He writes more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw becomes the leading dramatist of his generation, culminating in 1925 with his awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Shaw moves to London in 1876, where he struggles to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarks on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he has become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joins the gradualist Fabian Society and becomes its most prominent pamphleteer. He has been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man, in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he seeks to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist is secured with a series of critical and popular successes that included Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shaw’s expressed views are often contentious. He promotes eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposes vaccination and organised religion. He courts unpopularity by denouncing both sides in World War I as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigates British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances have no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist. The inter-war years see a series of often ambitious plays, which achieve varying degrees of popular success. In 1938 he provides the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he receives an Academy Award.

Shaw’s appetite for politics and controversy remain undiminished. By the late 1920s he has largely renounced Fabian gradualism and often writes and speaks favourably of dictatorships of the right and left. He expresses admiration for both Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death on November 2, 1950, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to William Shakespeare among British dramatists. Analysts recognise his extensive influence on generations of English-language playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.

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Birth of Playwright George Bernard Shaw

george-bernard-shawGeorge Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic, and polemicist, is born on July 26, 1856, at 3 Upper Synge Street in Portobello, a lower-middle-class area of Dublin. Shaw’s influence on Western theatre, culture, and politics extend from the 1880s to his death and beyond.

Shaw writes more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw becomes the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Shaw moves to London in 1876, where he struggles to establish himself as a writer and novelist, and embarks on a rigorous process of self-education. By the mid-1880s he has become a respected theatre and music critic. Following a political awakening, he joins the gradualist Fabian Society and becomes its most prominent pamphleteer. Shaw has been writing plays for years before his first public success, Arms and the Man in 1894. Influenced by Henrik Ibsen, he seeks to introduce a new realism into English-language drama, using his plays as vehicles to disseminate his political, social, and religious ideas. By the early twentieth century his reputation as a dramatist is secured with a series of critical and popular successes that include Major Barbara, The Doctor’s Dilemma, and Caesar and Cleopatra.

Shaw’s expressed views are often contentious. He promotes eugenics and alphabet reform, and opposes vaccination and organised religion. He courts unpopularity by denouncing both sides in World War I as equally culpable, and although not a republican, castigates British policy on Ireland in the postwar period. These stances have no lasting effect on his standing or productivity as a dramatist.

The inter-war years see a series of often ambitious plays, which achieve varying degrees of popular success. In 1938 he provides the screenplay for a filmed version of Pygmalion for which he receives an Academy Award. His appetite for politics and controversy remain undiminished. By the late 1920s he has largely renounced Fabian gradualism and often writes and speaks favourably of dictatorships of the right and left — he expresses admiration for both Mussolini and Stalin. In the final decade of his life he makes fewer public statements, but continues to write prolifically until shortly before his death, refusing all state honours including the Order of Merit in 1946.

During his later years, Shaw enjoys tending the gardens at Shaw’s Corner. He dies on November 2, 1950, at the age of 94 of renal failure precipitated by injuries incurred when falling while pruning a tree. His body is cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on November 6, 1950. His ashes, mixed with those of his wife Charlotte, are scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to Shakespeare among English-language dramatists. Analysts recognise his extensive influence on generations of playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.


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The 1932 Irish General Election

1932-general-electionAn Irish general election is held on February 16, 1932, just over two weeks after the dissolution of the Dáil on January 29. The general election takes place in 30 parliamentary constituencies throughout the Irish Free State for 153 seats in the lower house of parliament, Dáil Éireann. The 1932 general election is one of the most important general elections held in Ireland in the 20th Century, resulting in the formation of the first Fianna Fáil government. Fianna Fáil becomes the largest party and would continue to be the largest party in Dáil Éireann and at every general election until 2011.

Cumann na nGaedheal fights the general election on its record of providing ten years of stable government. The party brings stability following the chaos of the Irish Civil War and provides honest government. However, by 1932 support of the government is wearing thin, particularly since the party has no solution to the collapse in trade which follows the depression of the early 1930s. Instead of offering new policies the party believes that its record in government will be enough to retain power. Cumann na nGaedheal also employs “red scare” tactics, describing Fianna Fáil as communists and likening Éamon de Valera to Joseph Stalin.

In comparison, Fianna Fáil has an elaborate election programme designed to appeal to a wide section of the electorate. It plays down its republicanism to avoid alarm but provides very popular social and economic policies. The party promises to free Irish Republican Army (IRA) prisoners, abolish the Oath of allegiance, and reduce the powers of the Governor-General and the Senate. It also promises the introduction of protectionist policies, industrial development, self-sufficiency, and improvements in housing and social security benefits.

The election campaign between the two ideologically opposed parties is reasonably peaceful. However, during the campaign the government prosecutes de Valera’s newly established newspaper, The Irish Press. The editor is also brought before a military tribunal. This is seen by many as a major blunder and a serious infringement on the belief of freedom of speech. The “red scare” tactics also seemed to backfire on the government, who seem to have little else to offer the electorate.

When the results are known Fianna Fáil is still 5 seats short of an overall majority but looks like the only party capable of forming a government. Discussions get underway immediately after the election and an agreement is reached in which the Labour Party would support Fianna Fáil. The party now has the necessary votes to form a minority government.

On March 9, 1932, the first change of government in the Irish Free State takes place. Similar to when the party first enters the Dáil in 1927, a number of Fianna Fáil Teachtaí Dála (TDs) have guns in their pockets. However, the feared coup d’état does not take place. W. T. Cosgrave is determined to adhere to the principles of democracy that he has practised while in government. Likewise, the army, Garda Síochána, and the civil service all accept the change of government, despite the fact that they will now be taking orders from men who had been their enemies less than ten years previously. After a brief and uneventful meeting in the Dáil chamber, Éamon de Valera is appointed President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State by the Governor-General, James McNeill, who has come to Leinster House to make the appointment rather than require de Valera travel to the Viceregal Lodge, formerly a symbol of British rule. Fianna Fáil, the party most closely identified with opposing the existence of the state ten years earlier, is now the party of government. The 1932 general election is the beginning of a sixteen-year period in government for Fianna Fáil.