by Anne Sharp
George Bernard Shaw is in a funny position in current English-speaking culture. As a Socialist thinker, he's far too radical for America (where he's mainly known as the author of the play that "My Fair Lady" is based on) and too old hat for the post-Socialist UK, which is probably why the annual Shaw Festival is held in Canada. But I am absolutely crazy about him and always have been. He was a role model for my own writing career (I got the very bad idea from his and Dorothy Parker's examples that being a professional critic was a good entry into creative writing) and during the depths of the George W. Bush administration, when "socialist" had become the filthiest insult next to "terrorist," I used to hide out with my beat-up second-hand copy of Shaw's "Selected Prose" like a Soviet Russian with a samizdat, refreshing my spirit with his hearty, cheerful Unitarian pep talk.
Even more taboo than his unashamed humanism and anti-capitalism, which in and of themselves are enough to make him an outcast from 21st century culture, is Shaw's ruthless and relentless war against romance, particularly the romanticization of sexuality, which Shaw (I think rightly) saw as a plague against humanity. As a progressive in the era of Marie Stopes and Havelock Ellis, Shaw wanted to abolish the hypocrisy, ignorance and repression caused by Victorian sexual morality. As a humanist (by which he also belonged to the subset of feminism, but not to the exclusion of defending the rights of males) he was all for gender equality. In his "Quintessence of Ibsenism," he outlined Ibsen's dramatic methods of stripping away conventional ideals and moral illusions in order to show people in their natural state, methods that Shaw would turn to his own uses when he himself wrote for the theater. But in the period between Shaw's first attempts to break into the London literary scene as a young Irish immigrant in the 1870s and 1880s, and his successful breakthroughs as an arts critic and playwright in the 1890s, he learned some very hard lessons in the commercial realities of Victorian popular culture. Shaw discovered that unlike Wagner and Ibsen, who made their mark in epic and tragic modes, he would have his best chance of reaching fashionable London audiences via comedy. But comedy is notoriously harder to pull off than drama, and Shaw was a very angry young man who didn't feel like saying what people wanted to hear. It took him ages to figure out that he could say whatever he liked if he did it in a way that made people laugh.
Shaw's own personal sexuality can be very confusing to a contemporary post-sexual revolution observer. In theory, he supported the right to free love between consenting adults. In practice, he valued celibacy and restraint, and after a few experimental affairs with women in his peer group, became the pet husband of a rich woman with a pathological fear of sex who would not have sex with him and refused to let him take any outside lovers. The idea that Shaw, at a time when he was one of the most famous and admired men on earth, with presumably the sort of easy access to some of the most beautiful and desirable women on earth that comes with being a celebrity, wouldn’t assert his right to take advantage of it, has caused people to speculate that he was gay or suffering from sexual dysfunction of some kind, mental or physical.
There are a few famous men, Leo Tolstoy, Charles Boyer, James Cagney, Harry Houdini, and Alfred Hitchcock, who were reportedly able to remain more or less sexually continent and faithful to one wife for life, so it wouldn't be unprecedented if Shaw did too. It may also be that Shaw was unusually prudent and discreet and had experiences that the public and his biographers would simply never find out about. The Shaw I gather from reading his works was not an innocent or inexperienced man. He had a fine working knowledge of sexual politics (the ferocious erotic interplay between Mrs. George and St. John in "Getting Married" is clearly the work of an expert participant as well as observer) and, like Ibsen, did not allow his feminist sympathy with women to blind him to the occasional sexual savagery and idiocy of individual women. Isabella Woodward in Shaw’s novel “Immaturity” and Agatha Wylie in his novel “An Unsocial Socialist” have more than a little in common with Hedda Gabler.
Shaw learned from his run-in with the censor over his early play "Mrs. Warren's Profession" that too much sexual honesty would get him in hot water. At the same time he was bored and disgusted by the hypocritical conventions of sexual titillation on the London stage. Understandably it drove him up the wall that "Mrs. Warren's Profession," a serious and tastefully presented drama about a respectable young woman who discovers her family fortune comes from human trafficking, was banned from London's public theaters, while plays and operas openly depicting prostitution, rape, seduction and adultery were permitted as long as they were sugar-coated with a certain sort of coyness, romantic sentiment or insincere moralizing.
Negotiating his instincts as a truth-teller with the public's insistence on lies was always a struggle for Shaw, nowhere more obviously on display in his breakthrough hit play "Pygmalion," which producers and the public have always desperately wanted to be a romance, despite Shaw's insistence that it wasn't. Professor Higgins as Shaw conceived him is clearly a confirmed bachelor along the lines of his contemporary Sherlock Holmes, and even has a Dr. Watson in his live-in companion Colonel Pickering. But from actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree's original production of "Pygmalion," in which he infuriated Shaw by having Higgins lovingly throw flowers to Eliza after her final exit, to the Leslie Howard-Wendy Hiller film version, which actually made Eliza abandon her adoring lover Freddy for Higgins (a trope which the Shaw estate after his death allowed to be cemented into the ending of Lerner and Loewe's "My Fair Lady") we have been forced to experience this depressing scenario of sadomasochistic intergenerational bonding despite Shaw's best efforts to convince us that that wasn't going to happen and it was better that way.
Shaw wrote five novels between 1879 and 1883, several years before his career as an arts critic and playwright finally took off. The first four were rejected by publishers, but Shaw found a publisher for the fifth, “An Unsocial Socialist,” and as his reputation rose and there was increasing demand for his backlist of works, the others were eventually published too, either in book form or chapter by chapter in magazines (a common way of publishing novels in the 1800s.) Then Shaw became a theatrical superstar, and the novels were buried in the ensuing avalanche of brilliant plays. It wasn't easy to find any of Shaw's novels in print until online sources such as Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive started bringing them out in e-format. If by chance you don't feel like reading them, or just want to read more about them before checking them out, I happen to have here the following critical appreciation and reader's guide to the novels of Shaw.
One thing I discovered about Shaw's novels while preparing this overview is that they are all more or less interlocking parts of a panorama of young adult life in late Victorian London and vicinity, focusing especially on artists, musicians, intellectuals and other creative types, and though each novel singles out a few members of this set to focus on, characters occasionally filter in from other novels the way they do in the works of Zola or Kurt Vonnegut. For instance, Lady Geraldine Porter does benevolent social work on characters in both “Immaturity” and “Love Among the Artists,” while Lydia Carew of “Cashel Byron’s Profession” and Gertrude Lindsay of “An Unsocial Socialist” share the same overpriced dressmaker (more significant examples are mentioned below.)
"Cashel Byron's Profession" is my favorite Shaw novel, probably because he intended it to be. After not being able to sell his first three attempts at writing serious novels of literary merit and social relevance, he wrote "Cashel Byron" in a desperate attempt to pander to the public's appetite for silly romance novels, and when that didn't sell he immediately turned around and wrote the most cynical, obnoxiously uncommercial novel he could come up with, "An Unsocial Socialist," which ironically was the first novel of his to be immediately snapped up for publication. But by then Shaw had mastered the art of knowing and pleasing his audience--the novel was serialized in a Socialist journal, and Shaw had stuffed it with gratuitous Socialist rhetoric, as well as taking the precaution of adding plenty of the silly romantic stuff he knew even progressive intellectuals had to have in their novels, whether he liked it or not.
Please note that the following discussions of the Shaw novels contain complete summaries including major plot details, so if you plan on reading the novels and don't want to know anything about them beforehand, you shouldn't read any further.
Immaturity (completed in 1879; first published in book form in 1930)
Shaw's first novel is his least plotty and therefore his most modern-feeling, a slice of young adult life in and around 1870s London. It's so free of cliche and stock characters, so refreshingly full of observations from real life and bubbling over with the ideological preoccupations of a radical freethinker, that it's no wonder the young Shaw couldn't find it a publisher when it was new. By the time Shaw's world view became acceptable in English literature, his late Victorian prose style would have been considered embarrassingly outmoded, and after it was finally published in 1930 (with a charmingly apologetic introduction by Shaw) it apparently didn't stay in print long, given the difficulty I had in tracking down a copy.
The protagonist, Richard Smith, is a genteel young man about eighteen years old (about five years younger than Shaw when he wrote the novel), with a job that he loathes as a clerk at a carpet warehouse in the City of London, and a very Shawlike interest in music and the fine arts. We meet him as he moves his few belongings into a boarding house in uninteresting Islington. He develops a crush on one of his fellow boarders, Harriet Russell, a Scottish dressmaker a few years older than him, who isn't the least bit interested in him romantically, but accepts his offer to give her French lessons, and gives him some friendly scolding about not trying harder to make something of himself. Harriet also attracts the attention of St. John Davis, a charismatic evangelical preacher with advanced tuberculosis, who visits the boarding house in an attempt at an intervention with Fraser Fenwick, who is Shaw's first walking illustration of the horrors of alcoholism (with which Shaw was unfortunately all too familiar, from his father and and other alcoholic Shaw relatives, as detailed in Thurberesque detail in his introduction to "Immaturity.") After Harriet rejects Davis, he develops a disastrous habit of making passes at young women in his congregation, drops out of preaching and is forced to make a living singing in a music hall chorus. (I know, I wouldn't expect someone dying of tuberculosis to have much of a singing voice either, but since Shaw grew up among professional and amateur singers I assume he knew what he was talking about here, as with the alcoholism.)
The old boarding house is scheduled to be demolished, so the tenants must move out. Harriet goes to live in Richmond to be near her aunt, who is housekeeper at Perspective, a country house where wealthy and successful artists congregate. In Richmond Harriet starts her own successful dressmaking shop, attracting clients that include some of the elite ladies who frequent Perspective. Smith finds new lodgings in Chelsea and begins to explore the more stimulating and glamorous aspects of greater London, such as the music hall dancer he develops a hopeless but mercifully short-lived crush on. After being insulted by one of the managers in his office, he impulsively quits and to his surprise almost immediately finds a delightful and much better-paid job as the secretary to Foley Woodward, an easygoing, eccentric Irish member of Parliament, whose restless, drama-loving daughter Isabella happens to be a frequent guest among the artists at Perspective.
During a visit to her aunt at Perspective, Harriet meets the up and coming young landscape painter Cyril Scott, and despite his miserably unpersuasive attempts at courtship, decides that being an artist's wife will give her a better life than dressmaking and accepts his offer of marriage. Davis, who is hired to perform at a musical recital at Perspective, makes an embarrassing scene and has to be thrown out. Isabella, who had been trying unsuccessfully to get Scott for herself, strikes up a disastrous romance on the rebound with the poet Hawkshaw, and involves Smith in a ridiculously complicated and potentially compromising scheme involving some heirloom jewelry which Isabella gives Hawkshaw and then has trouble getting back. By the end of this adventure Smith has had enough of conventional Victorian romance and what Shaw and Ibsen would call the traditional "womanly woman," and when Isabella tries to toy with his affections, he responds by cynically toying with hers right back. Meanwhile, realizing that being a private secretary is as much a dead-end career as clerking, he takes the civil service exam, and does well enough to be able to move from Chelsea to South Kensington. He pays a visit to Harriet, who is now married to Scott, happily managing their household and children, and is as usual a few years ahead of Smith on the personal development scale. "You are not a boy, and you are not grown-up," she tells Smith. "'Some day you will get away from your books and come to know the world and get properly set. But just now there is no doing anything with you. You are just a bad case of immaturity."
The Irrational Knot (written in 1880; first published in serial form in 1885-7)
Edward Conolly, a brilliant Irish American engineer who is making his fortune through his discovery of a new type of electric motor, and his sister Susanna, a gifted singer who is wasting her talent but making lots of money as a music hall star, both fall into more or less scandalous relationships with members of the same aristocratic English family. Edward marries Marian Lind, a genteel society beauty whose family is shocked by her marrying a common "workman," while the free-spirited Susanna lives with and has a child by Marian's charming but feckless cousin Marmaduke, whom she loves but refuses to marry.
A year and a half into their marriage, Edward and Marian find their life together unbearable as they have nothing in common, but pretend everything's all right as they are afraid of hurting one another. Taking advantage of Marian's despair, the narcissistic cad Sholto Douglas persuades her to run away with him to America. Meanwhile, Susanna, whose alcoholism has destroyed her relationship with Marmaduke and ruined her reputation as a performer in Britain, goes on an American tour in a last attempt to salvage her career.
In New York, Sholto behaves so abusively to Marian that she breaks off with him and takes refuge in a shabby boarding house, where she discovers Susanna, who is penniless and dying of alcoholism. Edward finds out where Marian is staying, and arrives just after Susanna's death. Marian informs him that she is pregnant with Sholto's baby. Edward discusses with her the choices she has before her: either trying to rebuild their marriage, this time on a basis of mutual honesty, with him welcoming the child as his own; or divorcing and finding a new life for herself as an independent woman raising her child alone. Marian chooses independence, ending what Edward calls "the irrational knot" of their marriage.
Love Among the Artists (completed in 1882; first published in serial form in 1887-8)
Set in the same social circle as the previous novel (with some of the same characters showing up in supporting or cameo roles), this is a throwback to "Immaturity" in terms of being less dependent than “The Irrational Knot” on conventional Victorian melodramatic gimmicks (like the shameless hussy who dies a pitiful lonely death and the foolish wife who runs away with a bounder) and more of a realistic, character-driven unfoldment of events among a group of young people, with the central focus on Owen Jack, an avant garde Welsh composer of humble origins, and Mary Sutherland, a kind-hearted lover of the arts who at the start of the novel dutifully agrees to a long engagement with her friend Adrian Herbert, an ambitious but mediocre painter.
Thanks to a chance encounter with Mary and her father in Kensington Gardens, Jack is hired to teach music to Mary's feckless younger brother Charlie, but Jack’s arrogance and rudeness make him enemies there and he is fired when he is caught using the family piano to rehearse a composition of his own with a clarinetist borrowed from a local military band. He then encounters Madge Brailsford, another member of the Sutherlands' social circle, who is making one of her periodic attempts to run away from her domineering father and start a career as an actress. Madge hires Jack to give her secret voice and elocution lessons, which prove invaluable when she makes her next, this time successful attempt to leave home and break into acting. Meanwhile, Mary, who has been doing her best to encourage Adrian in his painting career despite growing doubts about his talent, also takes an interest in Jack and uses her influence to get him paying work as a teacher and smooth over the interpersonal conflicts that inevitably result from his self-absorbed rudeness.
In an effort to include more new British music in its concerts, the Antient Orpheus Society agrees to host the debut performance of Jack's fantasia for piano and orchestra, featuring the celebrated Polish concert pianist Aurelie Szczympliga. The performance is a success and Jack becomes a London social lion. Adrian falls in love with Aurelie, and marries her after consulting with Mary, who is more than happy to break off their engagement and return to being his friend. Madge, who is now a celebrated leading lady, finally reconciles with her father with the help of Jack and Lady Geraldine Porter. After making sure Mary is no longer engaged to Adrian, Jack proposes to her, but her horrified reaction makes him realize that he is simply not suitable for domestic life. Mary is then enthusiastically pursued by John Hoskyn, an executive with Edward Conolly's motor company, whose complete lack of culture doesn't prevent him from being impressed by Mary's intellectual refinements. Mary also meets Edward Conolly himself and is very taken with him, but after he tells her that a simple, loving man like Hoskyn will make her a better husband than a self-absorbed genius like himself, she takes his advice and as it turns out she and Hoskyn make a very good couple. Meanwhile, Adrian's marriage to Aurelie turns out to be a nightmare of jealousy, arguments and pointless dramatic conflicts that absorbs all his energy, causing him to completely neglect his career, which is just as well since, as Mary always suspected, he turned out to be not such a good painter after all.
Cashel Byron's Profession (completed in 1883; first published in serial form in 1885-6)
In his introduction to the 1905 edition of "The Irrational Knot," Shaw mentions that he sometimes ran into people who thought “Cashel Byron’s Profession” was the best thing he'd ever written, and while of course we share his eye-rolling at this belittlement of his talent, he understood the qualities that made readers love “Cashel Byron” well enough to capitalize on them in his winsome mock-Shakespearean stage adaptation, "The Admirable Bashville." I always thought that it would make a wonderful Merchant-Ivory style costume film, but then like Shaw I have little patience with the conventions of romantic fiction and love to see them teased and morphed into something more like real life. Romance fans, however, don't like to see anything the least bit different from the tasty artificial nonsense they've come to expect. They're not interested in a story in which the hero is a beautiful, virtuous yet passionate child of nature who frequently bursts into tears, and the adjectives most often used to describe the heroine are "thoughtful" and "grave."
After being punished for attending an illegal fist-fighting match, Cashel Byron, the seventeen-year-old son of Adelaide Gisborne, a Shakespearean actress who is a great star but a terrible mother, runs away from boarding school and stows away on a ship to Australia. There he meets Ned Skene, a retired prize fighter who recognizes Cashel's natural talent and launches him on a successful career as a “fighting man.”
Several years later, Cashel, now twenty-five and the world's champion bare-fisted prizefighter, is in training at a secluded cottage on the grounds of Wiltstoken Castle, owned by Lydia Carew, also twenty-five, whose philosopher father has raised her to be a scholar in her own right and a sensible manager of her vast wealth. During a momentary meeting near the cottage, Lydia and Cashel are infatuated with each other at first sight. Later, when Lydia's friend (and backer of Cashel's highly illegal fighting career) Lord Worthington offers them a proper introduction, Lydia assumes from Cashel's gentlemanly manner, refined diction (an inheritance from his actress mother) and refreshing originality of thought that he is a cultivated intellectual like herself. Others, like her companion and protegee Alice Goff and her cousin Lucian Webber, sense that Cashel is not what Lydia thinks he is. After seeing a battered-looking Cashel coming home from a fight accompanied by his drunken trainer, Lydia recognizes that her new friend is a "ruffian," without realizing that he is also not what she and her friends would consider a gentleman.
Meanwhile, as the social season has begun, Lydia relocates Alice and the rest of her household from Wiltstoken to London and devotes herself to her ongoing projects of doing background research for a biography of her father that she plans to write and finding Alice a suitable husband.
As a practical joke, Lord Worthington brings Cashel to an artistic soiree hosted by Mary Sutherland Hoskyn, where Cashel amazes the other guests, including Lydia, Lucian, Adrian and Aurelie Szczymplica-Herbert, Owen Jack, Edward Conolly, and Hawkshaw the poet, with an impromptu speech, during which he good-naturedly points out that Adrian Herbert's painting of a knight shows he has no idea of the sort of physical balance a real fighting man needs, and demonstrates by knocking the indignant Lucian over with a well-aimed poke. Afterwards, in conversation with Lydia, Cashel is delighted to learn that she is not engaged as he'd thought to Lucian, and mentions that he'd like to marry her himself. Lydia rebuffs him and sends him off to make a polite apology to Mrs. Hoskyn for disrupting her soiree.
Tagging along with Lydia on her way to do research at the British Museum library, Lucian proposes to her, but is turned down and told that he ought to propose to Alice instead. After completing her day's research, Lydia goes in search of a bookseller and winds up in a bad neighborhood where a rough man harasses her. Cashel, who also happens to be in the neighborhood and has been keeping an eye on Lydia without her knowledge, intervenes and is challenged to fight with the rough man, who hastily backs away when a bystander, recognizing Cashel, eagerly shouts out his name. Cashel insists on escorting Lydia home, and she gratefully invites him to call on her again.
After Lydia's footman Bashville (who, like Cashel and Lucian, is hopelessly in love with Lydia) privately informs Lucian that Cashel is an illegal prizefighter, Lucian is able to persuade Lydia to send a note to Cashel breaking off their relationship. Cashel responds by forcing his way into Lydia's house (in the process getting thrown to the floor by Bashville, an accomplished wrestler), telling her he loves her, and begging her to marry him. Lydia explains to Cashel that she cannot see him anymore unless he gives up his profession. Cashel is greatly encouraged, as he expects to earn enough money in the near future to be independently wealthy, and thus a gentleman in terms that even Lydia's socially conscious friends and relatives can accept.
While helping a theatrical company do some historical research from her personal collection for an upcoming production of Shakespeare's "King John," Lydia meets Adelaide Gisborne, and noting her uncanny resemblance to Cashel soon confirms her suspicion that she is the estranged mother that Cashel has told her about. Lord Worthington takes Lydia and Alice to an exhibition of British military skills, which includes Cashel in what is supposed to be a legal gloves-on boxing match, but which turns bloody when Cashel's opponent Bill Paradise, infuriated at the fact that Cashel is beating him, attacks him with his bare fists and bites him. Cashel agrees to a rematch with Paradise, this time the illegal and lucrative kind, which will earn him the last thousand pounds he needs to be able to retire from fighting. The match takes place not far from the cottage on Lydia's estate where Cashel and his trainer once stayed, which Lydia is now using as a retreat where she is writing her father's biography. When the match is broken up by the police, Cashel takes refuge in the cottage. Lydia, horrified and outraged, tells him she never wants to see him again but agrees to hide him from the police. However, Cashel is so devastated by Lydia's rejection that he gives himself up.
Ned Skene's wife begs Lydia to take Cashel back, telling her what a good man he is and how much he loves her. Lydia, deciding that a reunion between Cashel and his mother will reveal to her what she needs to know about Cashel's true character, arranges for a meeting between the two, where Adelaide reveals, to both Cashel and Lydia's astonishment, that Cashel's relatives are landed gentry and Cashel is in fact in line to inherit his uncle's estate, which includes a considerable fortune. Encouraged by knowing that his social standing is now the equal of Lydia's, he proposes to her one more time. Realizing that his beauty, passion and strength are, eugenically speaking, the correct balance for her own bookish nature, she accepts. By clever legal maneuvering the charges against Cashel for illegal fighting are dismissed and he goes on to have a successful marriage with Lydia, who continues her scholarly work while he carries on a respectable career as a Socialist member of parliament. Lucian marries Alice and they also live happily ever after.
An Unsocial Socialist (completed in 1883; first published in serial form in 1884)
Seventeen-year-old Agatha Wylie amuses herself by mercilessly bullying and tormenting her teachers and fellow students at Alton College, a boarding school for aristocratic young ladies, but manages to double-talk her way out of being expelled for her atrocious behavior. Meanwhile, Henrietta “Hetty” Jansenius, whose wealthy father is Agatha’s guardian, is abandoned five weeks after her wedding by her husband, Sidney Trefusis, who, realizing he has nothing in common with his new wife except an exhausting compulsion to have sex all the time, moves into an abandoned cottage near Alton College under the assumed identity of a common working man named Jeff Smilash, and devotes himself to Socialist agitation among the local workers as well as flirting with the schoolgirls at Alton, particularly Agatha. When the Janseniuses visit Agatha at Alton, Hetty causes an uproar by mysteriously disappearing. It turns out she has run into Sidney, who, not wanting her to tell the others who he really is, has taken her aside to try to explain to her why he has run away from their marriage and the idle upper class existence that he, as a Socialist, realizes is built on the inhuman exploitation of the working classes. He promises to come back to her someday and sends her back to London. He then resumes his pretense of being Jeff Smilash and continues pursuing his flirtation with Agatha through the fall and into winter.
Agatha, who still doesn't know that the man she knows as Jeff Smilash is really Hetty's husband Sidney, writes a letter to Hetty giving her the details of her escalating romance with Jeff. Hetty travels through a snowstorm to confront Sidney in his cottage, where he offers her more insincere assurances of his love. Returning to London through the storm, Hetty succumbs to an unspecified disease and goes home to die. Arriving just after Hetty's death, Sidney can't disguise his relief at being rid of her, and argues with her parents about the funeral and burial arrangements. Meanwhile, Agatha leaves school, makes her debut in society and embarks on an aimless existence, rejecting all attempts to marry her off.
A few years later, one of Agatha's favorite bullying victims from Alton, now Lady Jane Brandon, invites Agatha and Gertrude Lindsay, another of Agatha's former victims, to her country estate. Her guests arrive just as Sidney, now living nearby in a decrepit mansion inherited from one of his aristocratic relatives, is leading a demonstration against Jane's husband’s fencing his neighbors out of a traditional right-of-way crossing his property. Jane, recognizing Sidney from his Alton days, invites him to lunch, where he immediately resumes the flirtations he was carrying on with Jane, Agatha and Gertrude at Alton. This upsets their fellow luncheon companions Chichester "Chester" Erskine, a minor poet in love with Gertrude, and Jane's browbeaten husband Sir Charles, who had been attempting to carry on his own flirtation with Agatha.
While still functioning in a somewhat sociopathic mode, Agatha and Sidney have made some progress in terms of empathy. Agatha only reverts to her old bullying self after Jane verbally abuses Sir Charles in front of her; she warns Jane that her husband will turn to other women--specifically Agatha--if she doesn't stop maltreating him. Sidney, who rescues Gertrude after she poisons herself trying to harvest some wild hemlock, makes a project out of trying to get her to relax her artificial society manners and be her authentic self with other people, but because he can't stop flirting with her she interprets his attempts to befriend her as serious romantic interest. When Agatha responds one day to Sidney’s nonstop flirtation by jokingly suggesting he marry her, Sidney, on an impulse, decides that he really will marry her, and immediately tells everyone he meets that they are engaged. Gertrude is so hurt that she makes arrangements to go home at once, ignoring Chester's desperate attempts to get her to stay so he can make his own proposal to her. Sir Charles and Chester--both of whom Sidney has just charmed into signing a socialist petition demanding better wages for working men, against their better judgment--are alarmed when Sidney leaves town in the same train compartment as Gertrude, but Chester soon gets a telegram from Sidney assuring him that Sidney spent the entire train trip convincing Gertrude that she ought to marry Chester, and that she will accept him if he asks. On arrival in London, Sidney meets Mr. Jansenius, who is now a close friend, and tells him about the impending marriages, quoting Puck from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (and mocking the readers who were enjoying all the aforegoing silly romantic stuff that Shaw was obliged to write into his novel in order to get them to read it): "Jack shall have Jill, Nought shall go ill, The man shall have his mare again; And all shall be well."
(c) Anne Sharp. All rights reserved.