A Good Ladies’ Tailor

Brigid Brophy

  • Bernard Shaw and the Actresses by Margot Peters
    Columbus, 461 pp, £8.75, March 1981, ISBN 0 385 12051 6

Mozart had a discernible tendency to fall in love with his sopranos, Shaw something little short of a compulsion to fall in love with, first, women who took singing lessons from his mother and then, after he turned dramatist, his actresses. This must be one of the hazards of creating works of art that need executants to perform them. Ordinary lovers are sometimes dismayed to find that their beloved is in effect their own invention, a fantasy they have unwittingly devised to inhabit the attractive externals of some real person; and something similar seems liable to happen in reverse when an artist deliberately invents a dramatis persona and designs it, as he goes along, to wear the trappings of a particular executant. It was surely with autobiographical import that Shaw’s imagination was seized by the fable of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with his own creature. When he eventually wrote Pygmalion, he designed the role of Eliza for Mrs Patrick Campbell. He went to persuade her to take it and, as he reported to Ellen Terry, ‘fell head over ears in love with her in thirty seconds’.

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