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“Shaw and the Women in His/story”

By Dorothy Hadfield


Shaw has generally been written into history and the dramatic canon as the exemplary Fabian feminist, a reputation that is challenged by feminist interrogations into the politics of theatre historiography. While public historical narratives—many of which Shaw himself helped write—represent him as the champion of women’s freedom, a different story emerges in his correspondence and diaries, which sometimes show him appropriating women’s literary work while jealously guarding the realm of professional playwriting from encroachment by women. His private correspondence with actress and aspiring playwright Janet Achurch demonstrates both the power and the price of Shaw’s intervention. While Shaw seems to have deliberately encouraged Achurch to write in a style unfit for the modern stage, his public acknowledgement of her play in conjunction with his own notorious Mrs. Warren’s Profession facilitated the otherwise unlikely historical survival of Mrs. Daintree’s Daughter. Likewise, Shaw’s endowment with what Foucault called “the author function” preserves and legitimizes Shaw’s personal archive for scholarly study, thereby facilitating the survival of a huge cast of women whose contributions have otherwise disappeared from the narrative of theatre history. Shaw’s correspondence and diaries are an excellent starting point for feminist theatre historians looking for the women and their contributions to modern theatre.