Where George Bernard Shaw got his style

An anecdote from G.B. Shaw’s Everybody’s Political What’s What (1944), quoted by James Sutherland in the Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes, reveals the Irish author’s early stylistic inspiration:

That I can write as I do without having to think about my style is due to my having been as a child steeped in the Bible, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and Cassell’s Illustrated Shakespeare. I was taught to hold the Bible in such reverence that when one day, as I was buying a pennyworth of sweets in a little shop in Dublin, the shopkeeper tore a leaf out of a dismembered Bible to wrap them in, I was horrified, and half expected to see him struck by lightning. All the same I took the sweets and ate them; for to my Protestant mind the shopkeeper, as a Roman Catholic, would go to hell as such, Bible or no Bible, and was no gentleman anyhow. Besides, I liked eating sweets.

That the Bible was already dismembered suggests it was a routine source of raw material for the shopkeeper. Had he a secular alternative to hand – old newspapers, for instance – he might have made a tóimhsín for the sweets and allayed his damnation.


7 Responses to Where George Bernard Shaw got his style

  1. wisewebwoman says:

    I come from the era where a toimhsin was still on offer in the small shops that abounded in the small terrace houses in the city of Cork. some were classier and used white waxed paper but most used newsprint. Alas, ocon, no bible pages.

    I love the excerpt from Shaw.


  2. Vinetta Bell says:

    Good morning/afternoon, Stan!
    Thanks for the George Bernard Shaw excerpt. Childhood experiences, religious prejudices, the Bible, and sweets engage my interest and imagination this cold morning in the USA south where we are having unusually cold weather for us (to you in Ireland, probably quite common). I enjoy the unfamiliarity of your international posts and the comments from your followers. Shaw’s plays are also treasures I still enjoy. Thanks for your wide-ranging interests and posts, Stan.

  3. Stan says:

    WWW: Several sweetshops I knew and loved in childhood fell by the economic wayside over the years, but I remember it was always a small plastic or paper bag they used, never a tóimhsín. (More likely these shops were newsagents or general-purpose corner shops, but back then it was all about the sweets.)

    Vinetta: Good evening! Though we’ve had quite a stormy time of it on this side of the Atlantic, it has been an unusually mild winter. I hope your local temperatures rise soon, in time for spring. You might enjoy a post from the archives on G. B. Shaw’s reaction to Ulysses and his quibbling over its price.

  4. alexmccrae1546 says:

    I can recall, as a youngster, my now dearly-departed dad, a child of Depression-years Southern Ontario, Canada, telling me how grim it was to merely get by as member of a large, (hardly) working-class, second-generation Scottish-Canadian family of four boys and a wee baby sister. Times were tough.

    All the McCrae boys, growing up, found great solace in immersing themselves in all manner of sports, and the young lads tended to excel in many. Of course, hockey, Canada’s national game, was always high on their immediate sports agenda.

    Dad would harken back to many a memorable neighborhood pick-up hockey game on frozen river, or pond, emphasizing that he and his siblings were fortunate enough to even have a pair of ice-skates.

    To really paint a picture of austerity, and resourcefulness from back in the day, he claimed most kids would fashion makeshift hockey shin pads from old rolled up newspapers, stuffed under their pant legs, held in place by either large elastic bands, or heavy-duty string.

    Yet another of the myriad uses of repurposed newspapers. In this case… ‘all the news that’s fit to wear’. (Groan)

    P.S.— Shaw’s recollecting of his local sweet shoppe keeper using pages ripped from the Holy Book to wrap up candies for his customers, got me thinking about the Biblical Jesus, and the miraculous loaves and fishes parable. I can see it now, fish & chips wrapped in the pages of the New Testament. Sheer sacrilege, I say.

    • Stan says:

      Alex: That reminds me of these admirably improvised shin pads. I was fortunate enough to be able to afford the more conventional kind in my soccer-playing days.

      • alexmccrae1546 says:

        Hmm… talk about ‘barking up’ the wrong shin(s). (Groan)

        Thanks for that hilarious visual. Looks like something the Monty Python crew might concoct. Dig the funky sneakers, as well.

        From an expedience standpoint, quite a clever practical solution, using the natural inner surface concavity of the trimmed tree bark to conform to the natural convexity of the human shin. Necessity is truly the mother of invention.

        Wonder if certain species of tree bark would be more game- worthy, lasting, and accommodating than others? I could see oak being right up there. Birch bark, also a possibility. But I digress.

  5. […] Where George Bernard Shaw got his style […]

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