Playwright, wit, socialist, polemicist, vegetarian and charmer, Shaw was a controversial literary figure, the scourge of Victorian values and middle-class pretensions. Holroyd has cut his huge biography to a manageable single-volume life - the definitive Shaw for general readers and students alike.
Holroyd has done a masterly job of cutting down his huge biography to a lively and manageable one-volume life - the definitive Shaw for the general reader and the student. It has verve and pace, the light and shade of his life are emphasized, digressions cut, and Shaw comes over just as much larger than life as he always was, just as contrary, and even more sympathetically and movingly portrayed. This is a dazzling portrait of the man and his age.
Michael Holroyd was born in 1935 and is half-Swedish and partly Irish. Recognised as one of the greatest biographers of our time, he is the author of acclaimed biographies of Hugh Kingsmill, Lytton Strachey, Augustus John, and Shaw. He was awarded the CBE in 1989. Born in London, he now lives in London and Somerset and is married to author Margaret Drabble.
This one volume edition of Holroyd's prodigious study, takes in the years 1918-50, the final part of his life, which saw Shaw at the height of his fame. That was the period not only of St Joan, but also of the extraordinary Heartbreak House and Back to Methuselah. It is the time of Shaw's world acclaim, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and a Hollywood Oscar; and of world pilgrimages - he was feted in Japan and New Zealand, but provoked the US and offended South Africa. It encompasses also the two books about the earlier part of Shaw's life, and Holroyd writes with warmth and wit to portray a great man of letters who, in old age, was as disarming and quixotic as ever. When Shaw died in March 1951 the gross value of his estate came to 367,233 (a little over 5 million today). Shaw's wish was that the bulk of the money be used to fulfil a long-held ambition - to reform the alphabet. Austere, post-war Britain was appalled. The gross value excluded monies due from copyright; it also took account of neither the massive death duties nor the costly bequests Shaw had set up. Once the sums were done there seemed to be very little left for reform of the alphabet or anything else. But matters were not so simple. Legal wrangles over the wills of both Shaw and his wife blossomed and flourished and, 40 years on, questions remain. In the 'coda' to the masterful biography, Michael Holroyd untangles a web of devious manipulation and financial machination. Filled with colourful characters, from the public trustee, Mr Baulkwill, to the smouldering Shavian, Barbara Smoker, the result is an Anglo-Irish black comedy of which Shaw himself would have been proud. (Kirkus UK)
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