Saturday, July 25, 2020

Shaw Symposium Closes

Today the International Shaw Society closed out its online summer symposium. Hopefully the symposium will be back in person next year at Niagara-on-the-Lake!

This morning, there was a panel on Shaw and gender. Tanner Sebastian opened it with a paper called "'Goodbye, Home: Queer Domesticity in Shaw's The Devil's Disciple" in which he related the play to polyandry. He argued that the Anderson household in the play is queered by Dudgeon claiming to be Judith's husband.

Laurie Wolf then spoke about "Gender Disparity in The Devil's Disciple" relating the play to conventions of the late-nineteenth-century stage. She mentioned Shaw's review of G.K. Chesterton's book Eugenics and Other Evils, in which Shaw discussed the different modes in which society discusses women. She then was able to relate The Devil's Disciple to debates over the "New Woman" which fascinated Shaw.

Wan Jin gave the talk "In and Out of the Garden: Gendered Landscapes in Mrs. Warren's Profession" which discussed how gardens are half-private, half-public spaces. I was particularly interested in her discussion of figures who transgress spacial boundaries in the play, including the "gipsies" and "broomsquires" who represent a disruptive mobility. She then related this to Mrs. Warren herself, whose transnational mobility allows her to disrupt legal and moral boundaries.

The concluding panel of the conference began with Jesse Hellman, who talked about Bernard Shaw's relationship with his sister Agnes, who died in 1876, when he was just 19. Agnes was the younger of Shaw's two older sisters, and little is known about her, other than that she died of tuberculosis. Lucy, the elder of the sisters, was clearly affected by Agnes's death, but how did this traumatic event influence her brother? Jesse speculated that Shaw might have transformed Agnes into the character of Dolly in his play You Never Can Tell.

Next, Jean Reynolds spoke about Village Wooing, which she described as a play about reading and writing. Jean pointed out numerous similarities between the piece and Shaw's more famous Pygmalion. Both plays involve a young woman who has mastered the art of elocution, the prospect of marriage across class lines, working in a shop, and a bet involving getting someone to speak. Those similarities might seem superficial at first, but she pointed out that Village Wooing, like all plays, invites the audience in to collaborate with the dramatist in order to tell the story.

Sharon Klassen gave a great talk on Feliks Topolski, the artist who created the drawings for the Penguin Illustrated Pygmalion.  Topolski had previously collaborated with Shaw in creating illustrated editions of Geneva and In Good King Charles's Golden Days in 1939. Sharon was able to view preliminary drawings Topolski did, which are now at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. Shaw wrote numerous comments on these drawings... not all of them particularly nice! Apparently, Topolski originally wanted to depict Henry Higgins looking like Henry Beerbohm Tree, who was the first actor to play the character on the London stage. Shaw, however, strenuously objected.

The symposium closed with a rehearsed reading of Buoyant Billions. Originally, the piece was a three-act play, though Shaw later added a fourth act. Christopher Wixson adapted it into a one-act play with a single setting, which worked remarkably well.

I'm not sure when we'll be able to have in-person conferences again, but until we do, these online events will just have to be the next best thing.