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Palgrave Macmillan

Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism

Longing for Utopia

ISBN 9781137330192
Publication Date October 2013
Formats Hardcover Ebook (EPUB) Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan

One of the most famous playwrights of the twentieth century, George Bernard Shaw has a reputation as a humanitarian, a seeker of justice - and, in his own words, 'world betterer.' But this is difficult to reconcile with his enthusiastic support of Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin, which is usually dismissed as comic exaggeration and hyperbole, pugnacious rhetoric, paradox, or the antagonizing of the British political establishment.

But as Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism shows, Shaw's support was genuine, rooted in his powerful desire for absolute control over the unruly and chaotic, in a deep psychological longing for perfection. Shaw expressed rigid control over his own bodily instincts, and looked for political rulers of strong will and utopian designs to exercise similar control over unruly social elements.

For fifty years Shaw expressed a desire for state liquidation of recalcitrant or incorrigibly unproductive citizens in the hope of clearing the ground for a 'higher' kind of human creature. While Shaw knew that the public was not ready to act on such controversial ideas, he did hope that by disseminating his ideas through highly entertaining plays and essays they would take root in the mind and be activated later on by the power of the will.

Matthew Yde is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of New Mexico, USA. He specialises in modern and contemporary theatre and drama, particularly in relation to politics, philosophy, and religion. He has published multiple articles in Modern Drama and The Journal of Bernard Shaw Studies as well as a book chapter on Krzysztof Kieślowski's film The Decalogue. He is currently writing a monograph on contemporary American dramatist Stephen Adly Guirgis.

Introduction: George Bernard Shaw: Revolutionary Playwright
1. Previsions of the Superman in the Coming Age of Will: The Quintessence of Ibsenism
2. Utopia in Flames: Shaw and Wagner's Ring: The Perfect Wagnerite
3. From Hell to Heaven: Creative Evolution and the Drive towards the Military-Industrial-Religious Complex: Man and Superman, John Bull's Other Island, Major Barbara
4. Shaw's Modern Utopia: Back to Methuselah
5. Shaw's Totalitarian Drama of the Thirties; or, Shaw and the Dictators: Geneva, The Millionairess, The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles
6. George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950, Utopian to the End: Farfetched Fables


'At last Bernard Shaw has been taken out of the 'oddball' category: an eclectic and somewhat baffling mixture of playwright, pundit, paradoxer, and clown. Matthew Yde's engaging and scholarly reappraisal relocates him convincingly within the maelstrom of European artistic and political modernism. As such, Shaw joins the ranks of the true avant-garde, intent on transforming the contemporary no-man's land into a site for the imaginings of large scale experiments in socially engineering a new civilisation (with all too often devastating consequences). 'Shavian' is about to change its meaning.' - Roger Griffin, author of Modernism and Fascism 'In this compelling study of Shaw's plays and non-dramatic work Matthew Yde reveals Shaw's consistent and firmly held beliefs in the need for non-democratic, radical, and ruthless change to achieve his vision of a just and equitable society. Yde's unapologetic exposé of Shaw's views is at once a refreshing and provocative re-evaluation of a dominant aspect of Shaw's life and work.' - Leonard Conolly, Trent University, Canada
'Students of Shaw everywhere will want to read this provocative study, which turns an unflinching eye on aspects of Shavian thought that profoundly unsettle the reflective mind… Highly recommended [for] upper-division undergraduates and above.' - CHOICE
'This is an often unsettling but nonetheless thoroughly absorbing book. Anyone who cares about Shaw will want to read it in order to discover how their opinion of the plays, and the public figure, is affected by Yde's penetrating analysis.' - Benjamin Poore, Studies in Theatre and Performance
'The most significant single-author study of Shaw written in the past decade . . . a groundbreaking study that mobilizes rigorous archival research in service of high-stakes argumentation. Yde has laid the foundation for a new phase in Shaw scholarship.' - Lawrence Switzky, Assistant Professor of English and Drama, University of Toronto, Canada
'An extremely knowledgeable and highly provocative analysis of George Bernard Shaw's political beliefs and social ideals . . . Yde's political approach produces ingenious and insightful interpretations.' - Christopher Innes, Distinguished Research Professor, York University
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