Bernard Shaw and the Great War
G.B.S., as George Bernard Shaw liked to sign himself, was one of the few men who foresaw the dangers of a looming Great War and when it finally broke out, he opposed it with all his might. His criticism of the government position was not accepted by the people and he was violently attacked. The patriotic British press suggested that his plays should be boycotted; people left the room which he entered; army and naval officers opined – “The man ought to be shot”; his friends avoided him silently or severed their connections with him; he received sackfuls of hate mails. Newspapers gradually stopped printing his writings and Shaw went around giving speeches wherever he could. However, he ultimately grew silent and removed himself from the public eye.
Later, Shaw took recourse to develop a counter-discourse through his subsequent plays and prefaces to the plays. Heartbreak House (1919) is the first of this kind of plays. Giving it a sub-title, “A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes,” Shaw attempts to portray an entire European society which is unaware of the fact of its approaching demise – symbolised by the sound of bombardment at the end of the play. Although the play is a comedy, it is not very far from the spiritual “heap of broken images,” of T. S. Eliot’s “Wasteland” or the resignation of nada of Hemingway. In other words, Shaw’s plays, like Eliot’s poem and Hemingway’s novel, express intensely, the feelings of apocalypse and devastation in western writers induced by the First World War.
The writers are Professors, Department of English, University of Dhaka