Friday, May 27, 2022

Shaw Conference in Spain... at last!

Back in 2020, I was supposed to attend a conference on Bernard Shaw in the town of Cáceres in Spain. Well, the conference got delayed two years, but I finally made it!

I arrived in Madrid on Tuesday and took the train out to Cáceres, a beautiful city with lots of medieval architecture. The conference began on Wednesday, with a plenary lecture by Audrey McNamara. She spoke about how Shaw represented "Woman as Nation" but not in the idealized manner of W.B. Yeats in such plays as Cathleen Ni Houlihan.

Edurne Goñi-Alsúa kicked off the first session, discussing "geolect" in Spanish translations of Pygmalion.  Guadalupe Nieto Caballero talked about the reception of Shaw in Spain, and I was fascinated to learn that a production of Shaw's play The Devil's Disciple was performed in the midst of the Spanish Civil War. Gustavo A. Rodríguez Martín--who organized the conference--also spoke about his Online Shaw Concordance.

In the second session, I was glad to hear Peter Gahan discuss Shaw and the Germans. Shaw claimed that he mostly just knew Goethe and Schiller among German authors, though he was clearly familiar with a few others, as well. In Germany, Shaw's reputation during his lifetime was as a radical socialist, which informed the talk given by Virginia Costello on Shaw, Maxim Gorky and Emma Goldman. While Goldman became disillusioned with the Soviet Union after being transported there by the U.S. Army aboard the Buford, Shaw remained consistent in his support for the Russian Revolution.

Unfortunately, Jean Reynolds did not make it over for the conference, but she joined us over Zoom to officially launch her new book on Major Barbara and Pygmalion. She discussed how in Major Barbara Andrew Undershaft admires his predecessor in the arms trade, whom he refers to as his master. He quotes maxims of the business, but Reynolds said these maxims fall apart once you start to really think about them. She also brought up that when Andrew comes to his own home after being away for years, the butler Morrison doesn't know how to classify him. Should he announce him as a visitor or treat him as one of the family?

Wednesday night, we had a guided tour of Cáceres. We wondered at the old Moorish tower, the plaque on the ground marking the old Jewish quarter, and other amazing sights. The conference started up again on Thursday morning, with a plenary lecture by Brad Kent on Shaw and world literature. I learned that when Shaw accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, he used the prize money to set up an organization to encourage translation of Swedish literature into English. The organization gives out a prize each year for the best translation. Kent also spoke on Shaw's relationship to Max Reinhardt, who directed some of Shaw's plays, including a production of Saint Joan that included Bertolt Brecht.

The third session of the conference contained some Zoom talks, as well as Vishnu Patil (live and in person) discussing Shaw in India. He noted that India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, attended talks given by Shaw, and the two later met formally in 1949, the year before Shaw's death. After a brief coffee break, we had a fourth session, which featured Justine Zapin discussing The Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman, which she referred to as Shaw's last Irish play. She noted that in the play Shaw creates an Irish landscape in the minds of the audience without engaging in a mimetic representation of place in the physical theatre space.

After a book launch for Bernard Shaw and the Spanish-Speaking World, we had a fifth session in which Miguel Cisneros Perales discussed Spanish adaptations of Pygmalion and Óscar Giner spoke on links between Saint Joan and Calderón de la Barca’s Golden Age play The Constant Prince. Both plays present exceptional incarnations of the life force, he said. Giner also mentioned that Shaw's hero, P.B. Shelley, had partially translated Calderón's The Prodigious Magician, which remains perhaps the best English translation of that play. We also had some entertainment, with Brian Freeland performing his one-man show Bernard Shaw: Playing the Clown.

Today, I gave my own talk on Shaw and Sarah Bernhardt. There were also presentations by Luis Tosina Fernández, R.A.F. Ajith, and Soudabeh Ananisarab. It's been an exhausting conference, but one I was very glad to be able to attend!