The Playwright & the Pirate. Bernard Shaw & Frank Harris: A Correspondence
Edited and with an introduction by Stanley Weintraub
A more incongruous friendship than the one reflected in this correspondence is hard to imagine. Shaw is now remembered as the loading playwright of his time, and one of era's most memorable wits; Harris has become notorious for his near-pornographic My Life and Loves, and for a humourless (and disintegrating) sense of self-importance. At one time, Harris had been one of the later nineteenth century's most visible literary figures, a friend of such dissimilar people as Lord Randolph Churchill and Oscar Wilde, an editor of the London Evening News at 29, then editor of the Fortnightly Review and the Saturday Review, whose theatre critic Shaw became. Never quite respectable, Harris had been tolerated — even courted — as an amiable vulgarian when he was a rising star. However, his booming voice and four-letter language, his inability to look like anything other than an Albanian highwayman even when dressed in tails, his gluttonous gormandising and insatiable womanising, quickly made him a pariah in Edwardian circles as his career began to slip and he began to snatch at shady quick-money opportunities.
While Harris's career was hitting bottom, and doing it often, Shaw's reputation as playwright and publicist was growing. However strained Shaw's loyalties to his former editor became, they persisted, and both the strains and loyalties emerge in a generation of their correspondence. The 121 letters in this volume, spanning more than 35 years, reveal much of the private men and become in effect a pair of parallel autobiographies. Letters previously published — such as Shaw's famous remembrance to Harris of Oscar Wilde and his hilarious spoof-Harrisian biography of himself—are now published for the first time in accurate and complete texts, as is Shaw's memorable letter about his sex-life, which he insisted Harris expurgate when, in Harris's last, money-short years, he seized at a publisher's advance to write his former employee's biography. In the end Shaw completed it, in his own fashion, for Harris's widow.
Through these pages emerge the literary and political life of Edwardian and Georgian England, and wartime America, via Shaw's wit and ebullience and Harris's pomposity and paranoia. And in the relationship of the correspondents is a drama of two personalities whom Harris saw as having shared a heyday before one fell upon bad luck. To Harris it was a melodrama, to Shaw a tragicomedy.
Stanley Weintraub,was Research Professor and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanistic Studies at The Pennsylvania State University. Apart from numerous other books, he is author or editor of more than a dozen books on Shaw, including Private Shaw and Public Shaw, Journey to Heartbreak, and The Portable Bernard Shaw. He is also editor of SHAW, The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies, successor to The Shaw Review.