Monday, June 18, 2007

George Bernard Shaw's 'Shaw's Corner', Hertfordshire

George Bernard Shaw liked that his home at Shaw's Corner was two miles from the nearest major road, and so free from the dust of passing cars. A winding trail of the narrowest country lanes still leads you to his home. Shaw and his wife liked to walk around the gardens, talking their way along a route they reckoned as being a mile long, dropping a pebble into a pile for each mile achieved. He preferred this to stepping out into the public world. Listening to the mass of birdsong in his garden on Saturday morning, I understood why.

He gifted his home to the National Trust in 1948, dying a couple of years later. The lady custodian of the place reckons he used his last years staging the place as a shrine to himself, drawing in material from his London home and setting it. Here's a quiz. Who are the figures of influence ranged along the mantelpiece in his dining room, where he spent two hours a day over luncheon, working on his correspondence? (Click the picture to make it bigger. Answers below)
I'm disappointed that Shaw's plays have fallen from favour. I've never seen one I didn't enjoy - we need a revival of Major Barbara. The prefaces to Shaw's plays were one of the first times I met political opinion that made sense to me. Thirty years ago I visited the editor of the Loughborough Echo (was Arthur Deakins his name?), a venerable man in a wood panelled office where a signed postcard of Shaw was framed and on display. The rareness of the piece was its signature - Shaw was parsimonious with them, knowing they were sold on.

A daybed is positioned next to the desk in his study. At the bottom of Shaw's garden is a tiny and revolving writing shed, the chair squeezed next to the table to make room for yet another day bed. Clearly this was a man who believed in lying down to seek inspiration.

Those powerful influences on Shaw's life? Ghandi, Dzershinsky (leader of the KGB), Lenin, Stalin, Granville-Barker and Ibsen (playwrights), plus a picture of Shaw's birthplace, 33 Synge Street in Dublin. It would be fun to hear Shaw defending that curious range of choices today. His one editorial comment on the arrangements was the selection of one of these as a portrait for his bedroom wall as well. At least he opted for Ghandi to oversee his dreams.

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