G B Shaw\'s Heartbreak House

George Bernard Shaw’s

‘Heartbreak House’

‘A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes’

The author

George Bernard Shaw -he later dropped the name George- was born in Dublin in 1856, the third and youngest child of an alcoholic father and an undomestic mother. He developed an interest in literature, music and painting at a very early age, but was never enabled to go to university. At the age of fifteen he became an apprentice and during he stay there he started writing short literary articles for newspapers and magazines, with little success. In 1876 he moved to London with his parents and tried to earn a living as a writer, but at times he still needed his parents’ financial support. During this period he wrote his first five novels, none of them very successful; the first one was never published and the other four were sold to periodicals, to be published as serials.
In 1884 he joined the Fabian Society, an utopian movement that was trying to establish a socialist society through co-operation with the ‘bourgeois’ classes. He wrote a great number of speeches, pamphlets and articles for the Fabians, and in 1889 he edited the Fabian Essays, an import document in the history of British socialism. His work with and for the Fabian Society continued until the end of his life, during which period he wrote a number of important socialist articles, such as the anti-war pamphlet ‘Common sense about the war’ in 1914 and the ‘Woman’s guide to Socialism and Capitalism’ in 1928.
Between 1885 and 1898 he wrote many critical reviews on literature, art and music for a number of important magazines. During this period he started writing his first play, ‘Widowers’ Houses’, inspired by the plays of the Norwegian playwright Hendrik Ibsen, whose social awareness and nonconformism appealed more to Shaw than the fashionable hypocritical drama of those days. In 1893 followed ‘The Philanderer’, Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1893), and ‘Candida’ (1895), all published together in a collection of plays called ‘Plays Pleasant’ and ‘Plays Unpleasant’ in 1898, the year Shaw married Charlotte Payne-Townshend.
Shaw’s second period started in 1898 and lasted until 1939. The period started when Shaw wrote three ‘Plays for Puritans’ and contains the highlights of his career. Shaw will always be know for plays such as ‘Pygmalion’, a play he wrote in 1912 for the actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell - perhaps the play is best known for its film adaptation ‘My Fair Lady’, starring Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn-, and ‘Heartbreak House’. George Bernard Shaw died in 1950.

The Play

Shaw wrote ‘Heartbreak House’ in 1913, on the eve of the First World War, but had to postpone the production of the play until after the war, in 1921. He gave the play the subtitle ‘A Fantasia in the Russian Manner on English Themes’, thus inviting comparison with the Russian playwright Chekhov.

The story
The action takes place in Heartbreak House, in a room designed to recreate the interior of an old-fashioned ship. The captain speaks to Ellie of his daughters, whom he does not particularly like. Hesione, the eldest daughter, fears that Ellie is being driven by her father into a marriage for money with Mr. Mangan, even though Ellie in love with a mysterious man she met recently and who later turns out to be Hesione’s husband. Ellie therefore decides to go ahead with the marriage to Mr. Mangan. When Mangan decides to tell Ellie he was the one who ruined her father and that he is not a rich man, Ellie decides to marry the captain. The captain predicts shipwreck for England and at that moment an air raid starts, killing the burglar and Mr. Mangan, leaving the others to wait eagerly for the next one.

The characters
Captain Shotover, a white-bearded retired sea captain, the master of Heartbreak House. He is 88 years old, rather eccentric and represents England’s past glory. He presides over a household of characters like a monarch over his empire. He has two goals left in life: to learn how to explode dynamite with his mental powers, in order to be able to blow up all profiteers and exploiters; and to attain the perfect state of tranquillity he calls "the seventh