On this day, George Bernard Shaw, 23, quits his job at the Edison Telephone Company in order to write. Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland, and left school at the age of 14 to work in a land agent’s office. In 1876, he quit and moved to London, where his mother, a music teacher, had settled. He worked various jobs while trying to write plays. He began publishing book reviews and art and music criticism in 1885. Meanwhile, he became a committed reformer and an active force in the newly established Fabian Society, a group of middle-class socialists.
His first play, Widowers’ House, was produced in 1892. His second play, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, was banned in Britain because of its frank dealing with prostitution. In 1905, when the play was performed in the U.S., police shut it down after one performance and jailed the actors and producers. The courts soon ruled that the show could re-open. Although some private productions were held, the show wasn’t legally performed in Britain until 1926.
Shaw became the theater critic for the Saturday Review in 1895, and his reviews during the next several years helped shape the development of drama. In 1898, he published Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant, which contained Arms and the Man, The Man of Destiny, and other dramas. In 1904, Man and Superman was produced. In his work, Shaw supported socialism and decried the abuses of capitalism, the degradation of women, and the evil effects of poverty, violence, and war. His writing was filled with humor, wit, and sparkle, as well as reformist messages, and his play Pygmalion, produced in 1912, later became the hit musical and movie My Fair Lady.
In 1925, Shaw won the Nobel Prize for literature and used the substantial prize money to start an Anglo-Swedish literary society. He lived simply, abstained from alcohol, caffeine, and meat, declined most honors and awards, and continued writing into his 90s. He produced more than 40 plays before his death in 1950.