19 Dec 2016

Doris Lessing - A Woman Ahead of Her Time

Doris May Tayler was born in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919. Both of her parents were British: her father, Alfred (Michael) Tayler, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother, Emily McVeagh, had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She wrote marvellously about their mud house, which was meant to serve for five years and lasted 20, about her father's dreams, her mother's deluded expectations of elegant living. Doris's mother adapted to the rough life in the settlement, energetically trying to reproduce what was, in her view, a civilized, Edwardian life among savages; but her father did not, and the thousand-odd acres of bush he had bought failed to yield the promised wealth.

The wedding, in January 1919, was small and informal. Both bride and groom were too emotionally burdened to pretend to the naive joy of a traditional ceremony.

The natural world, which she explored with her brother, Harry, was one retreat from an otherwise miserable existence. Her mother, obsessed with raising a proper daughter, enforced a rigid system of rules and hygiene at home, then installed Doris in a convent school, where nuns terrified their charges with stories of hell and damnation. Lessing was later sent to an all-girls high school in the capital of Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out. She was thirteen; and it was the end of her formal education.

On their wedding night or soon after, despite their plans to postpone parenthood, a child was conceived — Doris.

 I was brought up surrounded by racists that nowadays no one would believe were possible. But I don't think it's a question of race. I think it is like the Romans in Britain. The Romans found us barbarians and left us barbarians, but roll on a few centuries and here we are civilised. My brother was quite extraordinarily racist. Thought he was superior to black people.
Lessing made herself into a self-educated intellectual. She once commented that unhappy childhoods seem to produce fiction writers. "Yes, I think that is true. Though it wasn't apparent to me then. Of course, I wasn't thinking in terms of being a writer then - I was just thinking about how to escape, all the time." The parcels of books ordered from London fed her imagination, laying out other worlds to escape into. Lessing's early reading included Dickens, Scott, Stevenson, Kipling; later she discovered D.H. Lawrence, Stendhal, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. Bedtime stories also nurtured her youth: her mother told them to the children and Doris herself kept her younger brother awake, spinning out tales. Doris's early years were also spent absorbing her fathers bitter memories of World War I, taking them in as a kind of "poison." "We are all of us made by war," Lessing has written, "twisted and warped by war, but we seem to forget it."
Lessing left home when she was fifteen and took a job as a nursemaid. Her employer gave her books on politics and sociology to read, while his brother-in-law crept into her bed at night and gave her inept kisses. During that time she was, Lessing has written, "in a fever of erotic longing." Frustrated by her backward suitor, she indulged in elaborate romantic fantasies. She was also writing stories, and sold two to magazines in South Africa.
In 1937 she moved to Salisbury, where she worked as a telephone operator for a year. At nineteen, she entered an empty marriage with Frank Wisdom, a colonial civil servant 10 years her senior. She had been pregnant with John at the time. When Jean came along in 1943, she was so desperate to get out of the marriage she moved into a rented room, took a job as a typist and began to move in more radical circles. Lessing and her first husband, Frank Wisdom, were divorced in 1943.

Her actions broke the accepted norms of the age, especially in a small colonial city. Her ex-husband initially refused to allow her access to her children, who were placed in the care of her sister-in-law. In March 1945, she wrote to a friend: “Since I was forbidden to see them for a year, it is difficult to see what else I could do but neglect them.”

Two years later, she told the same correspondent that she didn’t feel “any connection with [John] at all. For that matter, I never had. We treat each other with respect and circle around each other warily.” About Jean, she was warmer. “[She] is affectionate and sensitive. In fact I wish I could have her, but I can’t, so that’s that.”

Friends confirm that Lessing was also always in touch with her two older children – even though she was banned by the Rhodesian authorities from visiting her former homeland from 1957 until after the white-minority regime ended in 1980. And again, the circumstances of how she came to leave them are not as clear-cut a choice as her legend suggests.

Soon she was drawn to the like-minded members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists "who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read." Gottfried Lessing a German-Jewish refugee, was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, in 1945, they married and had a son. In 1949 they too divorced, and she left for London with their son, Peter.
She is routinely referred to as someone who “left behind” her two small children when she moved from what was then colonial Rhodesia to London in 1949 with the manuscript of her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, in her suitcase.

It is sometimes said that she chose her career over her children. “There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman,” she is quoted as saying, breaking every taboo in the book, “than to spend endless amounts of time with small children.” In her autobiography, Under My Skin, where she writes, briefly, of “committing the unforgivable” and leaving her 10-year-old son, John, and six-year-old daughter, Jean, to grow up on another continent.

After that She was less than enthusiastic about marriage, once remarking: “I do not think marriage is one of my talents. I’ve been much happier unmarried than married.”
Her outspoken views on apartheid led to her being declared a banned person from South Africa and Rhodesia. The ban was lifted 30 years later and she was able to return “home”.
Her two sons predeceased her, and she is survived by Jean and two granddaughters.
John died in 1992 from a heart attack. He had run a coffee farm in Zimbabwe. “Poor old John,” she lamented. “I got on with him, though I disagreed with his politics.” Jean lives in South Africa and shuns the limelight, preferring to work with under privileged children. “She’s a remarkable woman,” said her mother proudly in a rare public reference to her. “I very much admire her.”
During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left altogether in 1954. By 1949, Lessing had moved to London with her young son. That year, she also published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, and began her career as a professional writer.

In June 1995 she received an Honorary Degree from Harvard University. Also in 1995, she visited South Africa to see her daughter and grandchildren, and to promote her autobiography. It was her first visit since being forcibly removed in 1956 for her political views. Ironically, she is welcomed now as a writer acclaimed for the very topics for which she was banished 40 years ago.
December 31 1999: In the U.K.'s last Honours List before the new Millennium, Doris Lessing was appointed a Companion of Honour, an exclusive order for those who have done "conspicuous national service." She revealed she had turned down the offer of becoming a Dame of the British Empire because there is no British Empire. Being a Companion of Honour, she explained, means "you're not called anything - and it's not demanding. I like that". Being a Dame was "a bit pantomimey". The list was selected by the Labor Party government to honor people in all walks of life for their contributions to their professions and to charity. It was officially bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II.
In January, 2000 the National Portrait Gallery in London unveiled Leonard McComb's portrait of Doris Lessing.
In 2001 she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature for her brilliant literary works in defense of freedom and Third World causes. She also received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.
She was on the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005.

In 2007 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Nobel Prize motivation: "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny".

Lessing was the eleventh woman and the oldest person ever to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature

There is the clip of Lessing, clambering out of a black cab at her northwest London home in 2007, to be told by waiting reporters that she has just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, to which she replies, “Oh Christ.” Getting out behind her, his arm in a sling, carrying onions and an artichoke, is her third child, Peter, who lived with Lessing for much of his life. He even greets the throng. By one of those curious twists of fate, Peter Lessing died, at the age of 66, just weeks before his mother.

Peter had suffered prolonged ill-health, notably severe diabetes. Through it all, his mother cared for him diligently. In fact, they were returning by cab from a hospital appointment when they were ambushed by camera crews.

She died on November 17, 2013, at the age of 94.

She was a prolific writer, producing approximately a book a year for nearly 60 years. They included plays, poems and short stories but her novels, in particular The Golden Notebook, remained her best known, best loved and most controversial work.

The Grass is Singing, was published in 1950. The book explores the complacency and shallowness of white colonial society in Southern Africa and established Lessing as a talented young novelist.

Her novels, short stories and essays have focused on a wide range of twentieth-century issues and concerns, from the politics of race that she confronted in her early novels set in Africa, to the politics of gender which lead to her adoption by the feminist movement, to the role of the family and the individual in society, explored in her space fiction of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

As well as being a formidable novelist, Lessing was also a talented short story writer, publishing collections alongside her other works. The success of her novels tended to overshadow her other achievements but she remained stubbornly loyal to the short story genre. “Some writers I know have stopped writing short stories,” she once said, “because, as they say, 'there is no market for them’. Others like myself, the addicts, go on, and I suspect would go on even if there really wasn’t any home for them but a private drawer.”

The best among her short story collections, for example, The Habit of Loving (1957) and To Room Nineteen (1978), are tantalising glimpses into the hearts and lives of many different kinds of people, described with a vision accentuated by the demands of brevity.
The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment, in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in astonishing depth and detail. Anna Wulf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness, and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.
Attacked for being "unfeminine" in her depiction of female anger and aggression, Lessing responded, "Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise." As at least one early critic noticed, Anna Wulf "tries to live with the freedom of a man" - a point Lessing seems to confirm: "These attitudes in male writers were taken for granted, accepted as sound philosophical bases, as quite normal, certainly not as woman-hating, aggressive, or neurotic."
In the 1970s and 1980s, Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi-mystical insight Anna Wulf seems to reach by the end of The Golden Notebook. Her "inner-space fiction" deals with cosmic fantasies (Briefing for a Descent into Hell, 1971), dreamscapes and other dimensions (Memoirs of a Survivor, 1974), and science fiction probings of higher planes of existence (Canopus in Argos: Archives, 1979-1983). These reflect Lessing's interest, since the 1960s, in Idries Shah, whose writings on Sufi mysticism stress the evolution of consciousness and the belief that individual liberation can come about only if people understand the link between their own fates and the fate of society.
In the mid-1980s she perpetrated a hoax on her publishers Jonathan Cape, submitting a manuscript under the name Jane Somers, which they promptly rejected (The Diary of a Good Neighbour by Jane Somers was eventually published by Michael Joseph, Lessing's first publisher). This, she argued, showed what's in a name. Unknowns could not get a fair share of attention.
She published two novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers (The Diary of a Good Neighbour, 1983 and If the Old Could..., 1984). In addition, she has written several nonfiction works, including books about cats, a love since childhood. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 appeared in 1995 and received the James Tait Black Prize for best biography.


“I hated writing it,” said Doris Lessing. “It was sweating blood. I was very glad when it was done. It was an upsetting thing to write - obviously, it goes very deep into me somewhere.”

Mrs. Lessing was talking about her latest novel - her 35th book - ''The Fifth Child,'' a work that critics are already referring to as ''a minor classic.'' The novel is set in the English suburbs from the 1960's to the 80's, where a happily married couple are bringing up their four children. There is an unexpected fifth pregnancy, a very difficult and painful one, and when the fifth child, Ben, is born, he turns out to be a monster in almost-human form.

''It's a horror story,'' Mrs. Lessing said, sitting in the offices of her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. ''It seems to me it's a classic horror story.''

''What happened,'' she said, ''is that I wrote it twice. The first time I wrote it I thought it was dishonest and too soft - this is not what would happen if such an alien creature was born into our society. Something much worse would happen. So I threw away the first draft, and while it's certainly more unpleasant now, I think it's more truthful, especially in the reactions of the other children. I was too soft on them.''

Ms Lessing in New York in 1988 at the offices of Alfred A Knopf

The story takes place from 1965/1966 – 1986/1987. The period covered by the book is from the meeting between David and Harriet, until Ben is 12 years old.

The main characters are:
- Harriet, the mother of the five children, is the main character. She tries to educate her children as well as possible, but after the fifth child is born their aren’t five child any more, but one;
- David, the father of the five children;
- Ben, the fifth child, born in 1974 and a mistake. He’s a monster and is therefore done in an institut, but Harriet takes him back and he slowly burns into a criminal;
- John, a young man who helps in the garden, Ben likes him very much and they do a lot with each other;

- Derek, a friend of Ben on his second school.

The story reaches a climax when Harriet has taken Ben home from the institution. Nobody wants Ben coming home and the atmosphere of warmth and happiness is immediately gone.

Questions to discuss:

  1. How did you explain what Ben is, or what, if anything, is ‘wrong’ with him?
  2. Did this novel remind you of anything else you have read and if so why?
  3. Although it starts off as quite a realistic novel, it seems to make more use of ideas from horror, gothic, and fairy-tale as it goes on. What did you make of that?
  4. David and Harriet seem to stand for traditional family values at the beginning. Do you think the novel supports or challenges such values?
  5. Why do you think Harriet rescues Ben from the institution, even though this will damage the rest of the family?
  6. Are there any episodes of the novel that particularly stand out for you and if so, why?
  7. The novel was published in 1988. Is there any way that you think it might connect with things that were happening in the UK in the 1980s?

18 Dec 2016

The Life of George Bernard Shaw and How Pygmalion Was Created

Bernard Shaw (he hated the "George" and never used it) was born on July, 26th 1856 in Dublin, in a lower-middle class family of Scottish-Protestant ancestry, a family he described as of shabby genteel lineage. His father was a failed corn-merchant, with a drinking problem and a squint (which Oscar Wilde's father, a leading Dublin surgeon, tried unsuccessfully to correct); his mother was a professional singer, a voice teacher claiming to have a unique and original approach to singing.

Lucinda Elizabeth (Bessie) Shaw (née Gurly; 1830–1913)

He grew up a Protestant in the predominantly Catholic city of Dublin. He attended four schools and was tutored by a clerical uncle, but left his formal schooling behind him at the age of 14 and was always critical of formal education. Shaw gave himself a rigorous informal education. He developed a wide knowledge of music, art and literature under the influence of his mother, a singer and vocal music teacher, and as a result of his visits to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Vandeleur Lee (no good photo exists)

When Shaw was just short of his sixteenth birthday, his mother left her husband and son and moved with Vandeleur Lee to London, where the two set up a household, along with Shaw's older sister Lucy (who later became a successful music hall singer). Shaw remained in Dublin with his father, working as a clerk for an estate office (which he hated).His father drank heavily. Shaw becames a Teetotaller (noalcohol). Shaw's emarassing alcoholic father claimed to be descendent from Macduff, the slyer of Macbeth. When the father of Shaw died in 1885, noone of his children nor his wife attended the funeral.

In 1876, at the age of 20, he moved to London, to embark on a literary career. There he lived off of his mother and sister while pursuing a career in journalism and writing. He spent his afternoons in the British Museum, and his evenings pursuing his informal education in the form of lectures and debates.

The first medium he tried as a creative writer was prose, completing five novels (the first one appropriately titled Immaturity), that no one would publish until friends serialized them in magazines, started on his first play, and made public speeches on various topics of political and social controversy.

Bernard Shaw declared himself a socialist in 1882 and joined the Fabian Society in 1884; soon he distinguished himself as a fluent and effective public speaker and an incisive and irreverent critic of music, art and drama. Influenced by socialist lectures and by reading Marx's Das Kapital, he joined the Fabian Society in 1884. The Fabian Society was an influential group dedicated to establishing a socialist democracy in Britain. Shaw quickly became a major spokesperson for the Fabians and their ideas. Standing on soapboxes, at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park and at socialist rallies, he learned to overcome his stagefright and his stammer. And, to hold the attention of the crowd, he developed an energetic and aggressive speaking style that is evident in all of his writing. Among his associates in the Society were the artist William Morris, author H.G. Wells, feminist Annie Besant, and economic reformers Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The Fabian society would later be instrumental in founding the London School of Economics and the Labour Party. Shaw lectured for the Fabian Society, and wrote pamphlets on the progressive arts, including The Perfect Wagnerite, an interpretation of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle, and The Quintessence of Ibsenism, based on a series of lectures about the progressive Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen.

As a writer, he struggled through the late 1870s and much of the 1880s trying to establish a name for himself by writing reviews and criticism for numerous publications: book reviews for The Pall Mall Gazette, art criticism for The World, music criticism for The Star and The World (writing under the pseudonym "Corno di Bassetto"), and finally, from 1895 to 1898, as Theatre Critic for the Saturday Review, where his reviews appeared over the infamous initials "GBS."

In 1891, at the invitation of J.T. Grein, a merchant, theatre critic, and director of a progressive private new-play society, The Independent Theatre, a company founded to produce new plays by new modern playwrights, Shaw wrote his first play, Widower's Houses. Widowers' Houses was this company's second production, following the English premiere of Ibsen's Ghosts the year before.

It was followed by The Philanderer and Mrs Warren’s Profession. Published as Plays Unpleasant (1898), these Bernard Shaw plays reflect Shaw’s admiration for the “new drama” of Ibsen. Like many of his peers, Shaw was greatly impressed with Ibsen's new drama of social realism. In 1891 he wrote an essay on the subject entitled The Quintessence of Ibsenism. Shaw despised the sentimental romance being presented to London audiences in contemporary plays. He advocated instead that greater attention be paid to Ibsen and his innovations. Shaw valued the way the stage could become a platform for the communication of ideas: through his own plays he sought to confront audiences with issues of social and political importance.

For the next twelve years, he wrote close to a dozen plays, though he generally failed to persuade the managers of the London Theatres to produce them. A few were produced abroad; one (Arms and the Man) was produced under the auspices of an experimental management; one (Mrs Warren's Profession) was censored by the Lord Chamberlain's Examiner of Plays (the civil servant who, from 1737 until 1967, was empowered with the prior censorship of all spoken drama in England); and several were presented in single performances by private societies.

In 1898, after a serious illness, Shaw resigned as theatre critic, and moved out of his mother's house (where he was still living at the age of 42) to marry Charlotte Payne-Townsend, an Irish woman of independent means. Their marriage (quite possibly sexually unconsummated) lasted until Charlotte's death in 1943.

He maintained a passionate correspondence with Beatrice Stella Patrick Campbell, a widow and actress. Pygmalion was written for her.

Shaw's plays, including Misalliance, are filled with problematic parent-child relationships: with children who are brought up in isolation from their parents; with foundlings, orphans, and adopted heirs; and with parents who wrongly presume that they are entitled to their children's obedience and affection. He aimed to stimulate not only the hearts, but also the minds of London's theatre-goers. One of the major innovations of Shavian drama was the unusually large role he gave to thought and debate - but thought enlivened with a love of wordplay and paradox.

Although initially considered subversive because of the subjects he chose to portray, by the turn of the century Shaw had secured his reputation as a major playwright. His plays were produced on both sides of the Atlantic, and his scripts were published and distributed widely.
In 1904, Harley Granville Barker, an actor, director and playwright twenty years younger than Shaw who had appeared in a private theatre society's production of Shaw's Candida, took over the management of the Court Theatre on Sloane Square in Chelsea (outside of the "Theatreland" of the fashionable West End) and set up it up as an experimental theatre specializing in new and progressive drama. Over the next three seasons, Barker produced ten plays by Shaw (with Barker officially listed as director, and with Shaw actually directing his own plays), and Shaw began writing new plays with Barker's management specifically in mind. 

Over the next ten years, all but one of Shaw's plays (Pygmalion in 1914) was produced either by Barker or by Barker's friends and colleagues in the other experimental theater managements around England. With royalties from his plays, Shaw, who had become financially independent on marrying, now became quite wealthy. Throughout the decade, he remained active in the Fabian Society, in city government (he served as vestryman for the London borough of St. Pancras), and on committees dedicated to ending dramatic censorship, and to establishing a subsidized National Theatre.

The outbreak of war in 1914 changed Shaw's life. For Shaw, the war represented the bankruptcy of the capitalist system, the last desperate gasps of the nineteenth-century empires, and a tragic waste of young lives, all under the guise of patriotism. He expressed his opinions in a series of newspaper articles under the title Common Sense About the War. These articles proved to be a disaster for Shaw's public stature: he was treated as an outcast in his adopted country, and there was even talk of his being tried for treason. His dramatic output ground to a halt, and he succeeded in writing only one major play during the war years, Heartbreak House, into which he projected his bitterness and despair about British politics and society.

After the war, Shaw found his dramatic voice again and rebuilt his reputation, first with a series of five plays about "creative evolution," Back to Methuselah, and then, in 1923, with Saint Joan.

After the advent of talking films in the 1920s, Shaw's scripts began to find a place in the burgeoning film industry. Although a fan of movies since the early days of silent films, Shaw refused to sell the screen rights to his scripts unless he could retain some control over the final product. In the 1930s and 1940s he adapted several of his plays for film, including How He Lied to Her Husband (1931), Arms and The Man (1932), Pygmalion (1938), Major Barbara (1941), and Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).

In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not needing the money, he donated the cash award towards an English edition of the Swedish playwright August Strindberg, who had never been recognized with a Nobel prize by the Swedish Academy. Shaw's plays were regularly produced and revived in London. Several theatre companies in the United States began producing his plays, old and new, on a regular basis (most notably the Theatre Guild in New York, and the Hedgerow Theatre, in Rose Valley, PA, which became internationally known for its advocacy of the plays of Shaw and the Irish playwright Sean O'Casey). In the late 1920s, a Shaw festival was established in England (in a town, coincidentally, named Malvern).

In 1938 he wrote a screenplay for Pygmalion and became the first and only man ever to be awarded both the Nobel Prize and an Oscar, an Academy Award.

Shaw lived the rest of his life as an international celebrity, travelling the world with his wife, continually involved in local and international politics. (He visited the Soviet Union at the invitation of Stalin; and he came briefly to the United States at the invitation of William Randolph Hearst, stepping on shore only twice, for a lecture at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, and for lunch at Hearst's castle in San Simeon in California). And he continued to write thousands of letters and over a dozen more plays.

In 1950, Shaw fell off a ladder while trimming a tree on his property at Ayot St. Lawrence in Hertfordshire, outside of London, and died a few days later of renal failure precipitated by injuries at the age of 94. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 6 November 1950. His ashes, mixed with those of Charlotte, were scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.

He had been at work on yet another play (Why She Would Not). In his will, he left a large part of his estate to a project to revamp the English alphabet. (Only one volume was published with the new "Shaw Alphabet": a parallel text edition of Shaw's Androcles and the Lion). After that project failed, the estate was divided among the other beneficiaries in his will: the National Gallery of Ireland, the British Museum, and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Royalties from Shaw's plays (and from the musical My Fair Lady, based on Shaw's Pygmalion) have helped to balance the budgets of these institutions ever since.


The origin of the name: Pygmalion
The King of Cyprus, Pygmalion was a famous  sculptor. He made an ivory image of a woman so lovely that he fell in love with it.Every day he tried to make Galatea up in gold and purple,for that was the name he had given to this mistress of his heart.He embraced and kissed it,but it remained a statue.In despair he went to Aphrodite's shrine for help.Offering rich sacrifice and sending up a passionate prayer,he begged the goddess to give him a wife as graceful as Galatea.Back home,he went straight up to the statue.Even as he gazed at it a change came over it.A faint colour appeared on its cheeks,a gleam shone from its eyes and its lips opened into a sweet smile.Pygmalion stood speechless when Ualatea began to move towards him.She was simple and sweet and alive!Soon the room was ringing with her sliver voice.The work of his own hands became his wife.

Shaw wrote the lead role of   Eliza Doolittle for Mrs Patrick Campbell (though at 49 she  was considered by some to   be too old for the role). Owing to delays in mounting a London production and Mrs.  Campbell's injury in a car accident, the first English presentation did not take place until some time after Pygmalion premiered at the  Hofburg Theatre in Vienna on October 16, 1913, in a German translation by Shaw. The first production in English finally opened at His Majesty's Theatre, London on April 11,1914 and starred Mrs Campbell as Eliza and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Henry Higgins; it was directed by Shaw himself.

Pygmalion is not the typical romance we think of today. Victorian romances, such as Pygmalion set out to examine social issues.They often showcased poor but honorable leading ladies and male protagonists who learned that wealth and social class do not define a person’s character.

  • London, 1912
  • During this era, both in the play and in real life, there were huge differences between the rich and the poor. 
  • Social classes were clearly defined, and it was hard to move from one class to another.
  • Women did not have the same rights as men and were often looked at as inferior.
  • Women’s Rights: the right to vote in 1928, Equal Pay Act of 1970, and Margaret Thatcher became the first woman prime minister. 
  • Technology: radio, television, automobile, airplane, bread slicer, and Kool-aid.

  • Upper Class: didn’t work, noble men and women; In the play: HOST and HOSTESS of the Embassy Ball
  • Upper Middle Class: worked but were employed in safe, clean jobs (lawyers, doctors, professors); In the play: HENRY HIGGINS, COLONEL PICKERING
  • Lower Middle Class: worked in dangerous jobs and unsanitary conditions
  • Lower Class: did not work or worked little, had no financial freedom, were often servants; In the play: ELIZA DOOLITTLE

  • Eliza learns that women in the upper classes in fact do not have the independence that women of the lower classes do.  They must be connected to a man in some way to be respectable within “middle-class morality.”
  • Eliza rejects being a “gold-digger” and Higgins rejects female “puppy-dog” tricks.
  • Only a working skill frees Eliza.

  • Shavian Drama is a type of politically and socially charged “discussion play” made popular by George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.
  • In Pygmalion, Shaw tackles issues about women’s rights, language, social class, and the idea of self-transformation.



13 Dec 2016

2017 Reading List for Irun and Donostia


Hi All!

I don't know how or why, but our numbers were doubled last evening! Thank you all for coming and listening. If you would like to receive our newsletter with info about our future meetings and books, just send me your email address in a private message here. Our next newsletter will be sent this weekend, so in case you don't receive it until Monday, please let me know!

The post about George Bernard Shaw and Doris Lessing will be posted this week. Same with the lists of the books for 2017 :)

Thank you!

27 Nov 2016

Ray Bradury's "Fahrenheit 451" - November Irun Book Club Meeting

Ray Bradbury, American novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, screenwriter and poet 

He was born August 22, 1920 in Waukegan, Illinois. He was the third son of Leonard Spaulding Bradbury and Esther Marie Moberg Bradbury. Bradbury's early childhood in Waukegan was characterized by his loving extended family. 

Between 1926 and 1933, the Bradbury family moved back and forth between Waukegan and Tucson, Arizona. In 1931, young Ray began writing his own stories on butcher paper. 
In 1934, the Bradbury family moved to Los Angeles, California. As a teenager, Bradbury often roller-skated through Hollywood, trying to spot celebrities. He befriended other talented and creative people, like special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen and radio star George Burns. 

It was Burns who gave Bradbury his first pay as a writer -- for contributing a joke to the Burns & Allen Show. 

Bradbury was active in the drama club and planned to become an actor. He graduated from a Los Angeles high school in 1938. His formal education ended there, he started selling newspapers on L.A. street corners from 1938 to 1942, spending his nights in the public library and his days at the typewriter. 

His first published short story was "Hollerbochen's Dilemma," printed in 1938 in Imagination!, an amateur fan magazine. In 1939, Bradbury published four issues of his own fan magazine, Futuria Fantasia, writing much of the content himself. His first paid publication, a short story titled "Pendulum," appeared in Super Science Stories in 1941. He became a full-time writer in 1943, and contributed numerous short stories to periodicals. 

In 1946, he met his future wife, Marguerite "Maggie" McClure. A graduate of George Washington High School (1941) and UCLA, Maggie was working as a clerk in a book shop when they met. Ray and Maggie were married in the Church of the Good Shepherd, Episcopal in Los Angeles on September 27, 1947. 

Though he lived in Los Angeles, Bradbury never obtained a driver's license but relied on public transportation or his bicycle. He lived at his parents' home until he was twenty-seven and married. His wife of fifty-six years, Maggie, was the only woman he ever dated. 

That same year they married, 1947 also marked the publication of Bradbury's first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival. 

Bradbury and his wife Maggie lived in Los Angeles with their various cats. Together, they raised four daughters and had eight grandchildren. The first of the Bradbury's four daughters, Susan, was born in 1949. Susan's sisters, Ramona, Bettina and Alexandra were born in 1951, 1955 and 1958. 

His reputation as a writer of courage and vision was established with the publication of The Martian Chronicles in 1950, which describes the first attempts of Earth people to conquer and colonize Mars, and the unintended consequences. 

Bradbury suffered a stroke in 1999 that left him partially dependent on a wheelchair for mobility. Despite this he continued to write, and had even written an essay for The New Yorker, about his inspiration for writing, published only a week prior to his death. He made regular appearances at science fiction conventions until 2009, when he retired from the circuit. 

His wife, Maggie passed away in November of 2003. Bradbury chose a burial place at Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, with a headstone that reads "Author of Fahrenheit 451". 

Bradbury died in Los Angeles, California, on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91, after a lengthy illness. His personal library was willed to the Waukegan Public Library, where he had many of his formative reading experiences. 
On February 6, 2015, The New York Times reported that the house that Bradbury lived and wrote in for fifty years of his life, at 10265 Cheviot Drive in Cheviot Hills, Los Angeles, California, had been demolished by the buyer, architect Thom Mayne . 
 Bradbury has published more than thirty books, close to 600 short stories, and numerous poems, essays, and plays. More than eight million copies of his works, published in over 36 languages, have been sold around the world His short stories have appeared in more than 1,000 school curriculum "recommended reading" anthologies. 

Ray Bradbury's work has been included in four Best American Short Story collections. He has been awarded the O. Henry Memorial Award, the Benjamin Franklin Award, the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America, the PEN Center USA West Lifetime Achievement Award, among others. In November 2000, the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters was conferred upon Mr. Bradbury at the 2000 National Book Awards Ceremony in New York City.  He never confined his vision to the purely literary. He has been nominated for an Academy Award (for his animated film Icarus Montgolfier Wright), and has won an Emmy Award (for his teleplay of The Halloween Tree). He adapted sixty-five of his stories for television's Ray Bradbury Theater. He was the creative consultant on the United States Pavilion at the 1964 New York World's Fair. In 1982 he created the interior metaphors for the Spaceship Earth display at Epcot Center, Disney World, and later contributed to the conception of the Orbitron space ride at Euro-Disney, France. On April 1, 2002 Bradbury received the 2,193rd star on the world-famous Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to literature, sci-fi films and television.  

On the occasion of his 80th birthday in August 2000, Bradbury said, "The great fun in my life has been getting up every morning and rushing to the typewriter because some new idea has hit me. The feeling I have every day is very much the same as it was when I was twelve. In any event, here I am, eighty years old, feeling no different, full of a great sense of joy, and glad for the long life that has been allowed me. I have good plans for the next ten or twenty years, and I hope you'll come along."  

 "Fahrenheit 451", a Dystopia We Can Learn a Lot From

The Pedestrian, a short story which was originally published on the August 7, 1951 in The Reporter was the prelude to Fahrenheit 451. He wrote the novel in 9 days. And all was inspired by the incident he describes in this recording: 

In 1953, Fahrenheit 451, which many consider to be Bradbury's masterpiece, a scathing indictment of censorship set in a future world where the written word is forbidden. In an attempt to salvage their history and culture, a group of rebels memorize entire works of literature and philosophy as their books are burned by the totalitarian state. 

Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1953, the year the Korean War ended. The memory of Hitler’s atrocities and World War II was less than a decade old. The Cold War, meanwhile, had hardened into a standoff. In 1952 the United States tested a hydrogen bomb, and the Soviet Union followed suit a year later. A year after the publication of Fahrenheit 451, the Voice of America began broadcasting jazz worldwide. In New York, saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie inspired audiences with their dynamic virtuosity. In 1956, the U.S. State Department sent Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong on tour in the hope that their performances would spread American democracy and alleviate the tensions of the Cold War 

Bradbury repeats and expands certain images. Front porches and rocking chairs symbolize the past, a time when people intermingled without the distraction of electronic screens. The Mechanical Hound, an especially important symbol, represents Montag’s modern world and the deadly possibilities around every corner. 

As one reads Fahrenheit 451, certain themes stand out: the repression of free thought through censorship, a proper education that values books, the loss of culture and history, the threat that new technology may deaden human experience, the constant demand to satisfy immediate visual and sensory appetites, the value of authentic human interaction, and the value of the natural world. For Bradbury, our choice to use, misuse, or discard books relates to all these themes.