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Bernard Shaw papers

Identifier: MSS 0102

Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, a contract, receipts, proofs, and inscriptions by the playwright, Bernard Shaw.

The correspondence series includes letters to Edith and Pakenham Beatty, Hubert Bland, Reverend J. G. Bowran, F. Pepys Cockerell, St. John Ervine, Gardiner, Gurney, George S. King, John Kirkby, Jules Magny, Karl W. Musek, A. M. Palmer, William Poel, Paul R. Reynolds, Pharall Smith, Sobieniowski, T. Fisher Unwin, and Gleeson White.

The manuscripts include galley proofs for a version of "Fabian Manifesto," a typescript review titled "The Moral of Samuel Butler's Career," autograph and proof material for Prefaces, a proof for Everybody's Political What's What, and an autograph account of Shaw's early life and career.

The collection also includes photocopies of inscriptions by Shaw in books held in Special Collections, several receipts signed by Shaw, and a contract between Shaw and George Sidney King and Harry Douglas Parry for performances of Shaw's plays.


  • Creation: 1887-1947


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Restrictions on Access

The collection is open for research.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

George Bernard Shaw, prominent Irish playwright and advocate of rights for the working classes, was born on July 26, 1856 in Dublin, Ireland, to George Carr and Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly Shaw.

Although his family belonged to the landed Irish gentry, they were actually quite poor. Early in his life Shaw was tutored by his clerical uncle and briefly attended day schools; however, most of his useful education was obtained outside of the classroom through his avid reading, his theater attendance, the time he spent exploring the National Gallery of Ireland, and the variety of music which was ever-present in his home. Through his mother and her music teacher, George John Vandeleur Lee, Shaw was exposed to and absorbed a musical education.

By his sixteenth birthday, Shaw was working in a land agent's office in Dublin. Bookkeeping work involving the rentals of poor tenants and having to collect their rent confronted Shaw with economic inequalities. The insights gained during these experiences had a lasting influence on his political views.

In 1876, Shaw followed his mother and sister to London where he began his literary career by experimenting with short fiction, drama, and several novels (all rejected by publishers). His The Irrational Knot was serialized in 1885-1887 and finally published in book form in 1905.

The 1880s were a decade in which Shaw underwent extensive development. During this time he adopted socialism, became a vegetarian, developed as an orator and polemicist, and began seriously writing drama. He helped to found the Fabian Society, a middle-class socialist group which sought to transform English society, in 1884. His last novel, An Unsocial Socialist (1883), incorporated his socialist views.

In this decade, Bernard Shaw began writing criticism. He wrote book reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette (1885-1888), art criticism for the World (1886-1890), musical columns in the Star (as Corno di Bassetto from 1888-1890) and in the World (1890-1894), and theater criticism for the Saturday Review (1895-1898).

In 1898, during his recuperation from major illness, he married his unofficial nurse, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, an Irish heiress and friend of Beatrice and Sidney Webb. Their marriage lasted until Charlotte's death in 1943.

Although Shaw had experimented with drama at various times during his early writing days, it was his collaboration with William Archer in 1884 which produced Shaw's first serious dramatic work. The play Widower's Houses, was abandoned for eight years but finally completed and staged in 1892 by the Independent Theatre Society. Shaw's career as a dramatist began slowly with his plays unappreciated or, as in the case of Mrs. Warren's Profession, banned. But with the production of Shaw's Man and Superman in 1905, his fame as a playwright was established. Other plays by Shaw include You Can Never Tell (1899), The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), Candida (1897), Misalliance (1910), Major Barbara (1905), Pygmalion (1913), Caesar and Cleopatra (1906), Overruled (1912), Saint Joan (1923), The Apple Cart (1929), Androcles and the Lion (1912), and Heartbreak House (1920).

In addition to being a renowned playwright, Bernard Shaw is also remembered for the challenging prefaces he wrote to his plays and books. Prefaces, published in 1934, is a collection of a number of these works.

One of Shaw's greatest achievements was his invention of the theater of ideas, by insisting that the theater provide some moral instruction. In the process he also created a new genre, the serious farce. The serious farce consisted of using the techniques of comedy to advance serious views on humanity, society, and political systems. His plays, criticism, and political conscience all helped shape the theater of his time and after. Bernard Shaw died on November 2, 1950 at the age of 94.

Crawford, Fred D., "Shaw, George Bernard 1846-1950,"Contemporary Authors(128: 371-378). "Shaw, George Bernard,"The Dictionary of National Biography, 1941-1950, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 773-782.Weintraub, Stanley, "Bernard Shaw,"Dictionary of Literary Biography(10: 129-148).Wells, H. G., "G.B.S.--A MEMOIR BY H.G. WELLS; An Intimate Personal Estimate Written in 1945 Now Published,"The New York Times, November 2, 1950.


56 item


This collection consists of correspondence, manuscripts, a contract, receipts, proofs, and inscriptions by the Irish playwright Bernard Shaw.

Arrangement Note

  • I. Manuscripts Written or Edited by Shaw
  • II. Correspondence From Shaw
  • III. Inscriptions in Books by Shaw
  • IV. Contracts and Receipts
  • V.Everybody's Political What's What


Partial gift of S. Hallock du Pont (1963) and purchase (1968-1972).


Box 1: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript box

OCLC Number

Processing and Encoding

Processed by Anita A. Wellner, 1990-1991. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, 2006.

Finding aid for Bernard Shaw papers
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2006 June 8
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA