Bangs and Whimpers
Heartbreak House, slated by reviewers both when it was published in 1919 and when it was first produced in London in 1921, is now claimed by many Shaw critics to be perhaps his greatest play. It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for this rise in its reputation. Formally, it represents something of a new departure for Shaw, with a technique and structure which can be compared with more modern dramatists. Its use of symbolism, its allusiveness, its free adaptation of the Chekhovian style, relate it to the Modernist mode. It becomes a key talking-point, therefore, in the defence of Shaw against the common complaint that his dramaturgy is old-fashioned and limited. Indeed its atypicality within the Shavian canon wins the play praise from those who are critical of Shaw’s other plays: for Robert Brustein in his study of the modern ‘theatre of revolt’, it is outstanding;1 even Francis Fergusson, one of Shaw’s severest critics, makes a partial exception of Heartbreak House.2 It is not only in technique but in mood and theme that the play appears more akin to the major works of the twentieth century than anything else Shaw wrote. Its intimations of apocalypse seem to relate it to the great literary creations to emerge from the First World War.
KeywordsCritical View Cherry Orchard Modernist Mode Seventh Degree Whimper Century
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