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Extra resources for Bernard Shaw and the Comic Sublime

Sample text

More than any other, the subject of marriage considered in its sexual aspect seemed to stupefy his rhetoric: 'Every thoughtful and observant minister of religion is troubled by [the fact that] the known libertines of his parish are visibly suffering much less from sexual intemperance 38 Bernard Shaw and the Comic Sublime than many of the married people who stigmatize them as monsters of vice' (B 3: 461). This facile statement has the form of many of Shaw's best thrusts: X (an acknowledged evil like war or prison or in this case libertinism) is not nearly so bad as Y (a seemingly innocent condition like poverty or school or, in this case, marriage).

A character like Lickcheese in his first play is Ibsenite in that his complacent self-justification reflects false social ideals, and Dickensian in that the style of his self-justification is so broadly ironical that it mocks the speaker and draws us toward an opposite conclusion. Each of these major influences requires fuller comment. In Ibsen, Shaw was fascinated above all by the technique of exposing as villains certain figures who meant well - Torvald Helmer in A Doll's House, Pastor Manders in Ghosts (via Mrs Alving, who lets herself be influenced by him), Gregers Werle in The Wild Duck, and Rosmer of Rosmersholm.

But we can hardly describe those who write effectively at all, much less writers of genius, as extensively repressed, no matter how peculiar their sexual lives may be. Most people have not salvaged enough energy from childhood for any but the most modest creative achievements. Surely when we talk of intrapsychic conflict in regard to such persons as Bernard Shaw, we are taking for granted a freedom from the more limiting inhibitions. The two terms in combination, however, suggestively describe the enactment in Shaw of the double process of pressing down and lifting up, the subjection of the cruder components of pleasurable ideas in order to exalt an ego-ideal.

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