George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland, on 26 July 1856. He was the only son and youngest child of George Carr Shaw and Lucinda Elizabeth (Bessie) Gurley Shaw, and he had two older sisters. The Shaw family descended from English ancestors, and they were Protestants in Ireland. Shaw’s father was an alcoholic, and his mother was indifferent and showed little affection to her son. The family lived in what Shaw later described as “shabby-genteel poverty.”
Shaw’s mother was a close friend of George John Lee, a conductor, singing teacher, and “a flamboyant figure well known in Dublin’s musical circles.” His mother “had a fine mezzo-soprano voice,” and Shaw “found solace in the music that abounded in the house.” The family frequently hosted “gatherings of singers and players.”
When Shaw was about six years old, Lee and the Shaw family “agree to share a house … [located] in an affluent part of Dublin, and a country cottage” overlooking a bay. Shaw “was happier at the cottage” than in Dublin, and he enjoyed receiving books from Lee’s students. He “read avidly; thus, as well as gaining a thorough musical knowledge of choral and operatic works, he became familiar with a wide spectrum of literature.”
Shaw did not like any of the four schools that he attended as a boy, and he was “disillusioned with formal education.” He left school in October 1871 at age 15 “to become a junior clerk in a Dublin firm of land agents, where he worked hard, and quickly rose to become head cashier.” At that time he was known as “George Shaw,” but in 1876 he became “Bernard Shaw” and used that name for the rest of his life.
Lee moved to London in June 1873, and Bessie and her two daughters joined him two weeks later. Shaw stayed in Dublin with his father and taught himself to play the piano. He learned in 1876 that his younger sister was dying of tuberculosis, and he joined his mother and older sister at the funeral.
Shaw never lived in Ireland again but stayed in London where he became famous as an “Irish playwright, critic and polemicist” (one who engages in controversial debate).
[Shaw’s] influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature….
Since Shaw’s death scholarly and critical opinion has varied about his works, but he has regularly been rated as second only to Shakespeare among British dramatists; analysts recognize his extensive influence on generations of English-language playwrights. The word “Shavian” has entered the language as encapsulating Shaw’s ideas and his means of expressing them.
Shaw met a rich Anglo-Irish woman named Charlotte Payne-Townshend who proposed to him in 1897, but he declined. The next year his health broke, and Charlotte “insisted on nursing him in a house in the country.” Shaw agreed to marry her in order to avoid the look of a scandal, and the wedding took play on 1 June 1898. Both bride and groom were 41 years old. The marriage was “felicitous” (suitable, pleasing) but produced no children.
The Shaws bought a country home in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire, in 1906 and renamed it “Shaw’s Corner.” They lived there for the rest of their lives. Charlotte passed away in 1943, and Shaw died at home of renal failure at age 94 on 2 November 1950. He was cremated, and his ashes were “mixed with those of Charlotte” and “scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.”