Bernard Shaw


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The Ascent of the Superman

Sally Peters

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When he died in 1950, Bernard Shaw was a Nobel laureate hailed as the second greatest playwright in the English language. At the same time, his strangely flamboyant personality, so teeming with eccentricities and contradictions, aroused unquenchable curiosity. Despite many investigations into Shaw's life and art, parts of him—parts crucial to understanding both man and artist—have remained veiled in secrecy. In this critical biography, Sally Peters explores Shaw's background and beliefs, interests and obsessions, relations with men and women, prose writings and dramatic art. In deciphering the enigma that was Shaw, she uncovers a convoluted and extravagant inner life studded with erotic secrets.

Peters examines the passions of Shaw's life—everything from vegetarianism and boxing to socialism and feminism—and pieces them together in a new configuration, offering a fresh interpretation of his life and works. Striving unceasingly to ascend, possessed of monumental energy, Shaw was in many ways a dazzling example of his idealized superman. But, says Peters, this superman was also a man haunted by phantoms, a man of gender ambivalences and romantic yearnings, and a man who championed will even while believing that his erotic inclinations were the secret mark of the "born artist." Throughout, he was braced by a resilient comic vision as he transformed his life into enduring art.

Sally Peters is visiting lecturer in liberal studies at Wesleyan University. She has written widely on Shaw and on other subjects.

"Superb: as thought, writing, research."—Harold Bloom

"An intriguing study, part biography and part sexual case history."—Peter Ackroyd, The Times (London)

"Almost always interesting and often rewarding….[Peters] has thrown down a gauntlet which future writers on Shaw will have to pick up."—John Gross, Sunday Telegraph

"Startlingly incisive biographical study, full of fresh insights."—Publishers Weekly

"[Peters's] book is in fact the most interesting on Shaw's career."—The Times (London)

"Shaw wrote nearly a quarter-million letters, in addition to plays, essays, novels, newspaper criticism and broadsides, and Miss Peters has mined this rich quarry with invention and with delicious and tantalizing results."—Donn B. Murphy, The Washington Times

"Inordinately rich in insight, this superb study provides the perfect antidote for those suffering from the illusion that nothing new and instructive can be said about Shaw. Highly recommended for all college and university libraries."—Choice

"Sally Peters has lifted another corner, shed a bit more light on the fascinating, multifaceted character that was George Bernard Shaw. No one who writes about him in the future will be able to do so without reference to her findings and insights."—Ulysses D'Aquila, Lambda Book Report

"However well a student of Shaw may think he knows the works, he cannot fail to look at them in a fresh light after reading Sally Peters."—T.F. Evans, The Independent Shavian

"[A] profound critique that is certain to alter in some degree the way in which we think of Shaw."—Frederick P.W. McDowell, Annual of Shaw Studies

"Most interesting! People aren't usually serious about Shaw's sexuality. They mock it. They indulge in banter and persiflage. Or they deny he had any sexuality to be serious about. Ms. Peters may be the first person to take a good hard look. With, yes, most interesting results."—Eric Bentley

Selected as a Choice 1996 Outstanding Academic Book
ISBN: 9780300075007
Publication Date: February 17, 1998
344 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
29 b/w illus.