Topic 51 – Oscar wilde and bernard shaw

Topic 51 – Oscar wilde and bernard shaw



1.1. Aims of the unit.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.



2.1. Up to the late nineteenth century.

2.1.1. The Industrial Revolution.

2.1.2. The development of the British Empire.

2.2. The early twentieth century: the Irish question.

2.2.1. Before 1850: the Great Famine.

2.2.2. From 1850 to 1920: the Ulster Crisis.

2.2.3. From 1920 1920 to 1950: Norther Ireland and the IRA.


3.1. The main features of both literary periods.

3.2. The main literary forms.

3.2.1. Prose: the Victorian novel.

3.2.2. Poetry.

3.2.3. Drama: the revival of drama.


4.1. Oscar Wilde (1854- 1900).

4.2. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950).





1.1. Aims of the unit.

The present unit, Unit 51, aims to provide an account of two Irish dramatists, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. Since they produced their works in two different Victorian periods, we shall deal with how they reflected the prevailing ideologies of the day in the literature of the time which, following Speck (1998), is an account of literary activity in which social, economic, cultural and political allegiances are placed very much to the fore.

This is reflected in the organization of the unit, which is divided into three chapters which correspond to the main tenets of this unit: (1) a historical background of Great Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, (2) the literary background of the time, that is, the Victorian literature and the birth of modern literature, and finally, an analysis of (3) the Victorian drama, where we shall find the works of the two authors under study. Therefore, we shall present our study in six main chapters.

Chapter 2 provides a historical background of Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th century so as to frame the works of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw within an appropriate context. So, we shall examine the main events (1) up to the late nineteenth century in Great Britain, such as (a) the Industrial Revolution as a a model of historical transformation in general terms, and (b) the development of the British Empire, already in the second phase of imperial expansion. Then, we shall examine (2) the early twentieth century and its relationship with the Irish question so as to better understand our two main authors’ background.

Chapter 3 provides a literary background for the Victorian literature and the birth of modern literature. So, in this section we shall analyse (1) the main features of both literary periods; (2) the main literary forms of the time, thus (a) prose, (b), poetry and (c) drama; and within this latter, we shall examine the main features of Victorian drama and early twentieth century drama in next chapter.

So, Chapter 4 provides a general account of the Victorian drama and, therefore, the life, style and main works of the most prominent Victorian dramatists already mentioned, Therefore, we shall present these two dramatists in the following order: (1) Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) as the late Victorian dramatist, (2) George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) as the modernist dramatist, and (3) other lesser dramatists of the period.

Chapter 5 will be devoted to the main educational implications in language teaching regarding the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting. Chapter 6 will offer a conclusion to broadly overview our present study, and Chapter 7 will include all the bibliographical references used to develop this account of the Industrial Revolution.

1.2. Notes on bibliography.

An influential introduction to the historical background of the Victorian period and the early twentieth century, thus Imperialism, the Industrial Revolution, the American colonies and the Irish question is based on Thoorens, Panorama de las literaturas Daimon: Inglaterra y América del Norte. Gran Bretaña y Estados Unidos de América (1969); Escudero, La Revolución Industrial (1988); and Alexander, A History of English Literature (2000).

The literary background includes the works of Magnusson & Goring, Cambridge Biographical Dictionary (1990); and Sanders, The Short Oxford History of English Literature (1996); Speck, Literature and Society in Eighteenth-Century England: Ideology Politics and Culture (1998). Other general sources are taken from the Encyclopedia Encarta (1997) and The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (2003).

The background for educational implications is based on the theory of communicative competence and communicative approaches to language teaching are provided by the most complete record of current publications within the educational framework is provided by the guidelines in B.O.E. (2004) for both E.S.O. and Bachillerato; and the Council of Europe, Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common European Framework of reference (1998).



Chapter 2 provides a historical background of Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th century so as to frame the works of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw within an appropriate context. Despite the fact that both of them were born beyond Queen Victoria’s reign, between 1837 and

1901, they belong to different periods. Thus, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) is to be framed within

the mid- late Victorian period whereas George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) is to be framed in the early twentieth century, which coincided with the emergence of modernism up to the Second World War.

In doing so, it is convenient to analyse first some events related to the late Victorian and early twentieth century period, approximately from 1880 to 1950. Under Victoria, a Britain transformed by the Industrial Revolution became the world’s leading imperial power whereas under the following reigns Britain saw the dismantling of its empire and, therefore, its decadence together with a period of European conflicts and wars, including the Irish question.

This period, bewildered by growing wealth and power at the beginning of the century because of the pace of in dustrial and social change as well as scientific discovery, saw a growth in literature, especially in fiction. Yet, after the middle of the reign, confidence began to fade because of a series of conflicts, wars and colonial problems, and in the last two decades a different atmosphere was created. As a result, literature developed various specia list forms, such as aestheticism, professional entertainment, historical novel, and a disenchanted social concern, which gave way to the revival of drama.

Hence we shall examine the development of three main events that had important consequences on the Victorian literary productions under concern, thus the Industrial Revolution and the period of imperial expansion as the main late-nineteenth-century events, and the Irish question during the early twentieth century which So, we shall examine the main events (1) up to the late nineteenth century in Great Britain, such as (a) the Industrial Revolution as a a model of historical transformation in general terms, and (b) the development of the British Empire, already in the second phase of imperial expansion. Then, we shall examine (2) the early twentieth century and its relationship with the Irish question so as to better understand our two main authors’ background.

2.1. Up to the late nineteenth century.

2.1.1. The Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolutio n is often located in the period between 1750 and 1850, which coincides to a great extent with the Augustean Age (1714-1790); with the Georgian Age or the age of the Romantics (1790-1837), and reaching the end of the century (1901) with the Victorian Age (1837-1900). The emergence of the Industrial revolution, and therefore, its

consequences on society, brought about important economic, social, technological and cultural changes which framed the two phases of development of the British imperial expansion, though, for our purposes, we shall namely concentrate on the second one.

Generally speaking, the industrial revolution is said to have been the trigger for the imperial expansion since the new industrial economy in its earliest stages was acquired to serve a mercantile system. For a long time, the colonial market was small and unimportant, but soon, the British government desired to take the American continent and islands as a whole to serve as a market for their manufacturers and a source for products whic h could not be found at home. So, the effects of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century were felt in political, social, economic and technological terms.

These economic changes brought about important consequences at all levels since they resulted in a wider distribution of wealth. Therefore, the effect of the industrial revolution was felt on both social and political conditions in various regions, namely in connections between industrialization, labor unions, and movements for political and social reform in England, Western Europe, and the United States. The political background is namely represented by the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne who would reign from 1837 to 1901 and would be the longest reigning British monarch.

In polit ical terms, during Victoria’s reign, the revolution in industrial practices continued to change British life, bringing about urbanisation, a good communications network and wealth. In addition, Britain became a champion of Free Trade across her massive Empire, and industrialisation and trade were glorified in the Great Exhibitions. Yet, by the turn of the century, Britain’s industrial advantage was being challenged successfully by other nations such as the USA across the ocean and Germany on the continent.

The effects of the industrial revolution were also felt in the nineteenth-century Great Britain at social level. Actually, up to 1837 the main political consequences on social events are closely connected to this move from the country to the towns and the division of labour in the industry market. We can talk about a demographic revolution in this period since the growth of population was due to the improvement of food supplies, better hygiene conditions and a reduction in the mortality rate of epidemics. Population grew very quickly due to a decreased death rate and increased fertility.

In economic terms, towns with rural industry grew and provided much work. World trade and politics became more influential in the every-day life of the villagers, and as a result, the group

of proletarians grew quickly due to downwards social mobility and the fact that proletarians had more children than farmers. By 1850, the countryside had become very overcrowded, partially because of the rural industry that was located there. Hence Malthus developed a theory on the population growth: too much population growth would lead to disaster and misery.

On the other hand, industrialization shaped social class and labor organizations in terms of connections between industrialization and the rise of new types of labor organizations and mobilization. In fact, the nineteenth-literature reveals to a high extent the emergence and conditions of new social classes during the industrial period through relevant literary figures, such as Charles’ Dickens and his works. In particular, specific conditions for children employed by 19th-century England before and after major legislation passed in 1833, 1842, and 1847; the wide variety of organizations created by working-class peoples in England, Western Europe, and the United States in response to the conditions.

In addition, the industrial revolution also affected transportation and hence, trade. In the nineteenth century bicycles, steamships and trains made it easier for people to move further away. Hence the naval dominance of Great Britain at that time and its imperial expansion through the African continent by building railways. A further growth of the factory system took place independent of machinery, and owed its origin to the expansion of trade, an expansion which was itself due to the great advance made at this time in the means of communication. Finally, the main technological consequences were that new technologies were applied to the production of goods and services. We must take into account the move from hand-made work to manufactures, which is a prominent fact regarding the substitution of the factory for the domestic system. Throughout the nineteenth century, the main technological events include the British canal network was expanded until the building of the Manchester Ship Canal (in 1894), the steam engine which came to dominate the traditional agrarian economy, and finally, the exploitation of new, rich coal reserves.

2.1.2. The development of the British Empire.

In general terms, within the policy of imperial expansion and the establishment of new colonies all over the world, historians make a distinction between two British empires which follows a temporal classification within different centuries. Thus, the first British empire traces back to the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries when Britain expanded into areas formerly controlled by the Dutch and Spanish Empires and came into conflict with French colonial

aspirations in Africa, Canada, and India. Also, the colonies on the islands of the Caribbean and in southeast North America attracted increasing numbers of British and European colonists.

On the other hand, the second British Empire was initiated by the exploratory voyages of Captain James Cook to Australia and New Zealand in the 1770s, and reached its widest point during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901). At no time in the first half of her reign was empire a central preoccupation of her governments, but this was to change in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871), which altered the balance of power in Europe.

Symbolically, the British Empire reached its highest point on June 22, 1897, the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, which the British celebrated as a festival of empire. It was a great moment where the British Empire was compared to the Roman Empire, comparison which was endlessly invoked in further discussions and literary works. In 1897 the Empire seemed invincible, but only two years later British confidence was shaken by the news of defeats in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Those and other battles were lost, but eventually the war was won, and it took two world wars to bring the British Empire to its end. Those wars also were won, with the loyal help of troops from the overseas empire.

During the next decades, the British empire was compared to the Roman empire because of its extension, but the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were just about to see the development in the dismantling of the British Empire with the declaration of independence of the British colonies in India (1947) and Hong Kong (1997). So, one by one, the subject peoples of the British Empire have entered a postcolonial era, in which they must reassess their national identity, their history and literature, and their relationship with the land and language of their former masters.

As stated above, the political background is namely represented by the accession of Queen Victoria to the throne when her uncle, William IV dies in 1837. In general terms, during Victoria’s reign, the revolution in industrial practices continued to change British life, bringing about urbanisation, a good communications network and wealth. In addition, Britain became a champion of Free Trade across her massive Empire, and industrialisation and trade were glorified in the Great Exhibitions.

Yet, by the turn of the century, Britain’s empire was being challenged successfully by other nations such as France and Germany on the continent. We consider worth reviewing the main political benchmarks under her rule since important changes took place in her colonies. Thus the fact that from the 1850s, Britain was the leading industrial power in the world. Superseding the

early dominance of textiles, railway, construction, iron- and steel-working soon gave new impetus to the British economy by expanding territories in Africa (namely railways).

Other important events were the Crimean War between 1854 and 1856, which at first was between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, and later Britain and France were involved. During this war Britain maintained their colonial possessions. Also, between 1857 and 1858, an Indian Mutiny between Indian soldiers (Hindu and Muslim) who opposed their British commanders led to the end of East India Company rule in India and its replacement by direct British governmental rule.

Following the death of Albert (Victoria’s husband) in 1861, she had increasingly withdrawn from national affairs and criticism of the Queen lessened and she resumed her interest in constitutional and imperial affairs (she was created Empress of India in 1877), and eventually, Victoria’s death in January 1901 was an occasion of national mourning. Finally, to close the century we find the Boer War (1899-1902) which started as Britain attempted to annex the Transvaal Republic in southern Africa. In December 1880, the Boers of the Transvaal revolted against British rule, defeated an imperial force and forced the British government to recognise their independence. Finally, the peace of Vereeniging in May 1902 annexed the Boer Republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State to the British Empire (which, in 1910, became part of the Union of South Africa).

In social and economic terms, a new social class emerged after 1850, the middle class, which was made up of a fairly small and easily identifiable group: the professionals, businessmen, bankers, and shopkeepers, among others. Hence, the upper middle class was to be divided into two groups: those working in professional jobs and with a university educational background and those which did not enjoy a university education. The former group refers to the sons of doctors, lawyers, the clergy of the established church, civil servants and administrative posts whereas the second group involves the sons of the owners of agrarian properties, such as cotton mills, shipyards, and farmers among others.

Revolutions and nationalism also caused migration all over Europe in this period because of the wish to make states with one nationality in them, rulers suppressed minorities and encouraged people from their own nationality to return home. Another specific social feature which will be reflected in the literature of the time is the standard of living of some members of the labouring population, who began to increase quite quickly between the years 1868 and 1874, and the period between 1880 and 1896.

Finally another relevant feature regarding social changes was the role that women played in society through institutions such as charities, churches, local politics, and the arts, especially music. Women’s expectations changed from the idea of breeding children and running the household, to the privilege of studying at universities and colleges at Oxford, Cambridge and London. Yet, the professions remained prohibited for women, but a few succeeded in practising as doctors.

Also, the improved means of communication caused an extraordinary increase in commerce, and to secure a sufficient supply of goods it became the interest of the merchants to collect weavers around them in great numbers, to get looms together in a workshop, and to give out the warp themselves to the workpeople. To these latter this system meant a change from independence to dependence; at the beginning of the century the report of a committee asserts the essential role of commerce and communication in the expansion of the Industrial Revolution and the British empire all over Europe and the rest of the world.

In the late 19th century, similar revolutionary transformations occurred in other European nations, such as France (1790-1800 to 1860- 1870), Germany (1830- 40 to 1870-80), Belgium (1820-30 to 1870-80) and the United States (1830-40 to 1870-80). Hence, the fight between France, Germany and England in the construction of railways through the African continent with the aim of controlling the largest part of the territory.

On the other hand, the nineteenth century development and administration of British colonies was focused on the consolidation of existing colonies and the expansion into new areas, especially in Africa, India and Canada. Actually, in the early nineteenth century new British colonies were to be acquired or strengthened because of their strategic value, thus Malaca and Singapore because of their trading ports of growing importance, and the settlements of Alberta, Manitobba, and the British Columbia in Canada as potential areas of British migration. The main causes for other new acquisitions were, among others, the Treaty of Amiens (1802) by adding Trinidad and Ceylon; the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) with the addition of the Cape of Good Hope; the War with the United States (1812) brought about the Canadian unity; and the first Treaty of Paris (1814) gained Tobago, Mauritius, St. Lucia and Malta.

Also, between the years 1857 and 1858 Britain acquired in India the cities of Agra, Bengal and Assam after some local wars against French influence. Perhaps the Napoleonic Wars brought about more new acquisitions to the British empire in this century than any other war, since the Crimean War (1854-1856), the pacification programs in Africa, and some conflicts in New Zealand (against the Maoris) made little or no difference to the British empire. Yet, the most

serious conflict was just about to come towards the end of the century with the War in Sudan (1884) and the Boer War (1881, 1899-1902). So, as we can see, still in the nineteenth century, Great Britain maintained her political and imperial sovereignty.

In order to control these colonies, the British government created a sophisticated system for colonial administration: the Colonial Office and Board of Trade (1895-1900). Already in the

1850s, they were ruled by legislative bodies, since the colonies continuously asked for independence. They were separate departments with an increasing staff and a continuing policy of establishing discipline and pressure on the colonial goverments. Hence most colonial governements were left to themselves.

However, these legislative bodies governing the new settlements were soon to be replaced by an executive body which took over the financial control. This elected assembly would be represented by the figure of the governor and would be responsible for the colonial government. Therefore, these settlements became ‘crown colonies’, and were subject to direct rule, as we can see in the African and Pacific expansion where the crown colony system was established.

2.2. The early twentieth century: the Irish question.

The early twentieth century and the Irish question are to be politically related to the accession of Victoria’s son, Edward VII (1841-1910) to the crown, and his reign was known as the Edwardian Age (1901-1910) or the age of the House of Saxe -Coburg-Gotha1. Edward was the only British monarch who reigned for nine years at the beginning of the modern age in the early years of the 20th century. He was replaced on his death by King George V (1865-1936), who replaced the German-sounding title with that of Windsor during the First World War. The Windsor title remained in the family under the figure of Edward VIII, Duke of Windsor (1894-

1972). As we know the family name is still present in the current Royal Family.

In this section, we shall approach the Irish question by reviewing the main events occurred (1)

before 1850 as the great famine, (2) from 1850 to 1920 with the Ulster crisis; and (3) from 1920

clip_image001to 1950 approximately, concerning

1 The name Saxe -Coburg -Gotha came to the British Royal Family in 1840 with the marriage of Queen

Victoria to Prince Albert, son of Ernst, Duke of Saxe -Coburg & Gotha. Queen Victoria herself remained a member of the House of Hanover.

2.2.1. Before 1850: the great famine.

Before 1850, the Industrial Revolution also affected Ireland since in the late eighteenth century, and for a time there were successful large cotton enterprises, the establishment of the first mills in the 1770s, and in the final years of the Napoleonic Wars turned Belfast into the centre of the power production of yarn. Hence, the industrial revolution made spectacular progress in the eastern Ulster in the nineteenth century due to the capital, business skills and technical expertise acquired by drapers and cotton manufacturers earlier.

Yet, in social and economic terms, the population in the south rose from about two million at the beginning of the eighteenth century to over five million by the end of it. After 1815 since agricultural prices fell steadily, destitution in the Irish countryside increased, making the domestic industries in wool and linen decline in the face of competition from Manchester, Leeds, Bradford and Belfast. Most families had to live on potatoes for over a year and the new land system made large families rent their possessions to survive. Therefore, Dublin, once the second largest city in the British Empire, failed to industrialise and could not therefore absorb enough of the poor from the countryside.

On the contrary, Belfast became the fastest-growing urban centre in the United Kingdom but it was unable of taking in enough population from central and southern Ulster, then the most densely populated rural area in the British Isles. However, by 1845 a microscopic fungus affected the potato crops and caused a wave of famine, sweeping most of the island. In addition, by the end of 1846, the country was hit by snow storms, and thousands of people died of starvation.

The Tory government acted quickly and, in the hope of making bread cheaper; advanced loans to grand juries to give employment to the destitute on harbours, roads and bridges and purchased maize in America to be sold at cost-price in Ireland. Yet, the Whig party did not agree with this action and a Whig admistration was established instead. Eventually, it is estimated that about a million people died during the famine and that another million emigrated, the vast majority to Britain and North America. The government declared in 1848 that the famine was over, but it continued to rage in 1849 and to a lesser extent until 1852.

2.2.2. From 1850 to 1920: the Ulster Crisis.

From 1850 to 1920, Irish nationalism spread outwards and downwards and, as a result, the majority of population demanded some form of self- government. The Protestants, a majority in

the north-east, vie wed this development with alarm, and when Westminster agreed to a form of independence, the Protestants insisted on remaining in the United Kingdom. When the census revealed the effects of famine in 1851 and most emigrants wanted to leave the country, some landlords charged money for assisted passages as a rapid way of reducing poor rates and clearing scrapholders from their estates. As a result, between 1849 and 1854 nearly 50,000 families were permanently dispossessed in the post-Famine clearances.

Soon some concerted action against landlord power began, but amongst Irish substantial tenants. Actually, the Ulster Tenant Right Association was launched in 1847 and linked up with tenant associations in the south in 1850 to form ‘The League of the North and the South’. This was a group of MPs who supported their cause for a time at Westminster but nothing came of it, partly because two MPs accepted office in Lord Aberdeen’s government in 1852. Hence, James Stephens, a veteran of Young Ireland, found a revolutionary organisation in Dublin in 1858 which was dedicated to the establishment of an Irish republic by force of arms.

The movement in Ireland, now officially called the Irish Republican Brotherhood but better known as the Fenians, spread rapidly amongst labourers, shopkeepers and others hard hit by the successive harvest failures of the early 1860s. When the American Civil War ended in the summer of 1865 a quarter of a million dollars was raised to finance the long-planned Fenian rising in Ireland. However, arrangements for insurrection were disrupted by fatal indecision, internal disputes, informers, arrests and the petulance of Stephens. On the night of 4 March

1867 several thousand Fenians turned out, but they were dispersed by volleys fired by the Irish

Constabulary, renamed in gratitude by Queen Victoria as the Royal Irish Constabulary.

The pressure on the land and living standards rose considerably in the 1850s, 1860s and early

1870s due to the effects of the earlier Great Famine and steady emigration. Rents failed to keep pace with farm profits and evidence of the new modest prosperity was to be seen in the number of new Catholic churches erected in these years. In addition, the extermination of the Plains Indians and the unprecedented production of cheap meat and corn in North America, produced a crisis on the Irish land. The reduction in prices was fast and disastrous for Irish tenant farmers, who formed the Land League in the 1879.

Refusing to work for offending landlords, farmers demonstrated their united power in Mayo against Captain Boycott in 1880. The Prime Minister, W E Gladstone, drafted a Land Act in

1881 which gave tenants new rights and set up courts to control (and generally reduce) rents.

The Land League failed however in its aim to have the landlords removed altogether. Yet, Irish nationalism increased despite the efforts of the United Kingdom, such as the disestablishment of

the Church of Ireland in 1869, the increasing of rights for tenant farmers by the Home Rule movement in 1870, or the introduction of the secret ballot in 1872.

This solution divided Ulster politics and as a result, protestants opposed to Home Rule. Then at the end of 1885, Gladstone announced that he supported Home Rule and that he would bring in a Bill to establish a parliament in Dublin with limited powers. In a packed Commons, Gladstone introduced his Bill with an epic speech on 8th April 1886. Desertions from his own side, however, ensured defeat of the measure in June. Hence in the nineteenth century Belfast was the most violent corner of Ireland and lots of people were killed.

The very success of first the cotton industry and then of linen manufacture, engineering and shipbuilding drew in people from the countryside, most of them from mid-Ulster where sectarian tensions were severe. Immigrants brought with them their memories of past wrongs, their fears and their resentments. They chose where they lived with care: the main Protestant districts were Sandy Row, the Shankill and Ballymacarrett; the Catholic enclaves were smaller and more scattered, including the Markets, Short Strand, the Pound Loney and Ardoyne.

Invisible frontiers tween these ghettos were constantly shifting due to the rapid growth of Belfast, and it was along these frontiers that intense rioting occurred. Actually, the worst event took place in 1886 when the news of the Home Rule Bill’s defeat came through and ancient rivalries were then mingled with opposing political aspirations in riots. Catholic labourers were murdered while Protestants lit tar barrels in celebration and Catholics set their chimneys on fire in protest.

By 1888 Belfast was the largest city in Ireland because of its linen industry. The reason was that by the time of the American Civil War, a cotton famine was created in Manchester as the Union troops marched through plantations, and the nearest available substitute was linen. The problems of weaving linen by power loom had been overcome just before the war when specialist engineering firms emerged to make linen machinery.

Gladstone made a second attempt to give Ireland Home Rule in 1893. This time the Bill passed through the Commons but was thrown out of the Lords. There might have been a stronger reaction in Ireland but for a fatal division in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Liberal Unionists led by Joseph Chamberlain joined with the Conservatives to create the Unionist Party and during a long period in office the Unionists made it plain that there would be no devolution for Ireland but at the same time indicated a desire to eliminate the Home Rule.

The government’s greatest achievement was to take the land issue out of politics. In 1902 the Irish Chief Secretary, George Wyndham, accepted recommendations from a committee of landlords, nationalists and unionists that the landlords be bought out. In 1903 Westminster

passed Wyndham’s Land Bill, which encouraged landlords to sell entire estates, the money being advanced to tenants by the treasury to be repaid. The act was an immediate success, though it took further legislation in 1909 to compel landlords to sell.

When there was a hint in 1905 that the government would consider a form of Devolution and Unionists in Ulster formed the Ulster Unionist Council. The Liberals returned to power in 1906 but with such a large majority that they had no need to appease the Nationalists by introducing Home Rule. Deadlock between the Lords and Commons however forced two elections in 1910, with the result that the Liberals needed the support of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by John Redmond to stay in office.

In 1911 the Parliament Act ended the Lords’ veto and restricted their delaying power to three parliamentary sessions. A third Home Rule Bill was introduced in 1912 and in January 1913 the Ulster Volunteer Force was set up, consisting of 100,000 men who had signed the Covenant. Andrew Bonar Law, leader of the Unionist opposition at Westminster, pledged his support. When Nationalists formed the Irish Volunteers to support Home Rule in November 1913, it looked as if Ireland was on the brink of civil war.

The demand for Irish farm production and for Belfast’s linen and engineering products ensured full employment and new standards of prosperity. Yet, militant republicans believed that Ireland took advantage of their situation and prepared a rebellion (The Civil War) which had to be postponed by a greater conflict on the European mainland, the First World War (1914-1918).

An umbrella separatist political party was created in 1917. Originally, it was formed in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, and was called Sinn Fein, which means ‘ourselves’. After a number of spectacular by-election victories in 1917 and 1918, the party was ready to supplant the Irish Parliamentary Party. Yet, in the general election of December 1918 the Nationalists were annihilated, and Sinn Fein was considered then the most representative organisation of the Irish people in Ireland. The Ulster Unionist Council had already agreed that, instead of resisting Home Rule for the whole island, they would insist on the exclusion of the six most Protestant counties in the north-east. Yet, Sinn Fein MPs refused to take their seats at Westminster and instead met in Dublin, claiming to be the government of Ireland (naming their assembly Dáil Éireann).

The first incident which would led to the War of Independence traces back to the same day as the Dáil was met in January 1919, when some volunteers attacked unarmed policemen at Soloheadbeg in county Tipperary. By 1920 the government had suppressed the Dáil and flying

columns of Volunteers, calling themselves the Irish Republican Army, conducted an effective guerrilla warfare in the countryside. Then, a parliamentary committee, chaired by the former Ulster Unionist leader Walter Long, prepared a Bill which became law as the Government of Ireland Act in December 1920. This Act divided Ireland into Southern Ireland with a devolved parliament in Dublin, and Northern Ireland with a devolved parliament in Belfast.

Both parts of Ireland were to send some members to sit at Westminster. Sinn Fein rejected the scheme out of hand and continued to support the IRA in its military campaign for a united Irish republic. Eventually, the Unionists accepted the Act: the six counties of Northern Irela nd comprised the largest area that they could control without fear that nationalists would gain a majority; and a home rule assembly in Belfast, they believed, would give them some protection if a future Westminster government sought to reunite the island.

2.2.3. From 1920 to 1950: Norther Ireland and the IRA.

In the spring of 1921 and under the Government of Ireland Act, Northern Ireland came into being. Both Nationalist and Sinn Fein MPs refused to attend but George V’s appeal was heard: the IRA, now facing the regular British Army operating across country had suffered a number of serious reverses; and Lloyd George, confronted with many other problems at home and abroad was eager to make agreement.

The IRA asked for an agreement in July 1921 and, after protracted negotiations at Downing Street, a treaty was signed with the British government on 6th December 1921. The 26 counties would become a Dominion called the Irish Free State. Then a special Constabulary was established between the years 1920 and 1921 to counter the threat of the IRA. The new force was to be divided into three categories; A Specials, were to be full-time and paid as regular policemen; B Specials, by far the largest section, to be part-time, uniformed and unpaid; and C Specials, an unpaid reserve force to be called out only in an extreme emergency. Also, civil servants were invited to apply but no determined effort was made to get Catholics to apply.

In the local government elections of 1920, the Unionists lost control of Londonderry Corporation and a majority of councillors pledged themselves to the Irish Republic proclaimed by Dáil Éireann. Tensions ran high in the city and in May 1920 fierce battles raged in the streets between the UVF and the IRA. Moreover, in Belfast, after a meeting of ‘Protestant and Unionist’ workers on 21 July, Catholics were driven out of the shipyards and in the ensuing weeks out of many other places of employment in the city. Ferocious conflict followed and outnumbered

Catholics were generally the losers in this intercommunal warfare. In just one week there seemed to be no prospect of an end to the conflict as the War of Independence edged into Ulster.

Other events followed such as riots, campaigns and conflicts between the police and IRA, who defended Catholic ghettos in Belfast and Derry; the Civil War between 1922 and 1923; the economic crisis between 1929 and 1932, caused by the First World War, which had brought about traumatic changes in world trading conditions: the Northern Ireland’s help less effort to sell goods abroad; the Wall Street Crash of October 1929, which affected Belfast since it depended on export industries and was hard hit by the contraction of world trade; the reduction of employees due to the unemployment of insured workforce; an attempt for a Protestant Parliament where Catholics made up around one third of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland, and their representatives were certain always to be in opposition.

Also, the 1932 riots, a rare occasion when Protestants and Catholics campaigned together, went on strike and organised protest marches to demand improved assistance; and the Sectarian conflict between 1932 and 1935, which brought together in solidarity the working-class of Catholics and Protestants. In addition, there was a period of inaction between 1939 and 1940, where cabinet meetings were infrequent and brief, and the average age of ministers was high in the eve of the war. Finally, the period between 1939 and 1967 can be named as one of war and peace. The Second World War underlined the experiences of the two parts of Ireland, which were sharply different, and as a result, the south remained neutral and free from attack, while the north suffered severely during the 1941 Blitz. Attempts by nationalists to get rid of partition aroused little sympathy in a world made anxious by the Cold War. Meanwhile welfare reforms greatly improved the quality of life.


In Chapter 3, we shall provide a literary background for the Victorian literature and the birth of modern literature. So, in this section we shall analyse (1) the main features of both literary periods; (2) the main literary forms of the time, thus (a) prose, (b), poetry and (c) drama; and within this latter, we shall examine the main features of Victorian drama and early twentieth century drama. Hence, in next chapter, we shall concentrate only on the literary form of drama, and therefore, on the main Victorian dramatists: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

3.1. The main features of both literary periods.

The main features of both literary periods are summed up in two key concepts: the novel of social purpose and the discussion play, which may be described as two of the typical products of the period regarding the late Victorian period and the early twentieth century, respectively. Yet, let us examine both periods in terms of their main features.

As stated before, the Victorian Age includes several changes different in nature and, in this respect, the literary background presents a great variety of aspects. Thus, the literary period is characterized by its morality, which to a great extent is a natural revolt against the grossness of the earlier Regency, and the influence of the Victorian Court. In addition, literary productions are affected by the intellectual developments in science, religion, and politics.

Also, the new education acts of the period made education compulsory, which rapidly produced an enormous reading public. Actually, the cheapening of printing and paper increased the demand for books among which the most popular form was the novel. Finally, we also observe a strong literary interaction between American and European writers (specially in political and philosopical writ ings). In Britain, the influence of the great German writers was continuous (Carlyle, Arnold).

The Victorian literature is characterized by the telling of every detail, as in photography so as to get a real image of the object or person described. The fact may suggest concepts of clarity, precision, and certainty. On the contrary, the disadvantages of being close to the object, and of possessing masses of information about it is the production of copious works. So we notice that this aspect of clarity is reflected in the main literary productions of the period, which are namely divided into three groups: political, philosophical and social so as to reflect the events of the time.

On the other hand, following Albert (1990:432- 433), after Victoria reign, the turn of the century was changed from a period of stability to one of violent imperialism, where social problems at home became cruder. This situation ensured “a period of seeping social reform and unprecedented progress. The reawakening of a social conscience found its expression in the development of local government and the rapid extension of its influence upon the health, education, and happiness of the citizen.”

Also, “political passions ran high, and the years before the War saw serious labour troubles, many of them connected with the growth of Trades Unionism, Home Rule for Ireland, Free

Trade or Protection, Votes for Women, the decline of agriculture and the growing urbanization of the country were major problems of the day. After the Boer War the aloofness which Britain had so long and prosperously maintained from European conflicts was abandoned in face of growing German strength, and national rivalries finally came to a head in the appalling struggle of 1914-1918”.

Similarly to the literary features of the Victorian period, the literature of the age (up to 1920) saw a spread of education since “not only was there a larger market than ever before for the “classics” and for all types of fiction, but there arose an entirely new demand for works in “educational” fields – science, history and travel. As a profession and as a business, literature offered better financial prospects (Albert, 1990:433)”.

Also, the spread of literacy was accompanied by an enormous output of books and “the awakening of the national conscience to the evils resulting from the Industrial Revolution. More than ever before would- be reformers pinned their faith on the printed word and on the serious theatre as media for social propaganda (1990:434)”. Hence, the two periods are to be characterized by the dominance of teh novel as a vehicle for the sociological studies which attracted most of the great artists of the period, and the rebirth of drama, which appeared after more thatn a hundred years of insignificance since the time of Shakespeare. Like the novelists, most of the important dramatists were namely concerned with the contemporary social scene, and though, toward the end of the period, there are signs of a revival of poetic drama, and prose continues as the normal medium.

3.2. The main literary forms of the time.

3.2.1. Prose: the Victorian novel.

There is no doubt that the Victorian era was the age of the English novel, namely realistic, thickly plotted, crowded with characters, and long. By the end of the period, the novel was considered not only the premier form of entertainment but also a primary means of analyzing and offering solutions to social and political problems, only challenged by the revival of drama towards the last two decades. This king style, the novel, is presented with a political, philosophical or social overtone (Thackeray, Dickens, Brontë) since was the ideal form to describe contemporary life and to entertain the middle class.

Another variety of prose is the short story (namely developed in the next century); the essays, in the treatise-style (Carlyle, Symonds, Pater); the lecture, which became prominent both in England and in America; historical novel, strongly represented by William Stubbs, Edward A. Freeman and Samuel R. Gardiner; and finally, we find the scientific treatise so as to account of the scientific developments of the period (Browne, Burton, Berkeley).

Political writing reflects the political consequences of the industrial revolution in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Britain. Therefore, writers such as Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), who was famous for sequences of related novels that explore social, ecclesiastical, and political life in England, and Thomas Carlyle (1795- 1881) among others, show, denunciate and value the moral and political affairs which deeply affected society in Britain at that period. Thus, some of their works are respectively, Disraeli’s Coningsby: or the New Generation (1844), Sybil: or The Two Nations (1845), dealing with the politics of his day; Bulwer-Lytton’s Richelieu, or the Conspiracy (1839), A Strange Story (1862) and The Coming Race (1871); Trollope’s Phineas Finn (1869) and Phineas Redux (1874), where he makes a satire of the political period; and finally, Carlyle’s The French Revolution (1837) and Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches (1845), in an attempt to criticize Cromwells’ methods.

Philosophical writing is namely represented by George Eliot (1819-1880), who is actually a woman writing under a pen-name, George Meredith (1828- 1909) and Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895). His main works reflect the most outstanding philosophical and moral problems of the period, thus respectively: Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859), an excellent picture of English country life among the humbler classes, Felix Holt the Radical (1866), a critical work on the Reform Bill, and Daniel Deronda (1876), which strongly coloured preoccupation at that period with moral problems and and inexorable realism; Meredith’s Vittoria (1867) which revindicates the spirited handling of the Italian insurrectionary movement and The Egoist (1879), with a moral plot; finally, Huxley’s Man’s Place in Nature (1863), Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews (1870), and American Addresses (1877).

Finally, social writing is represented by:

o William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), whose works showed a biting humour and the observation of human weaknesses, thus The Book of Snobs (1849), The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon (1844), a picaresque novel, and Vanity Fair (1847-1848), which tells about the fortunes of Becky Sharp to denounce the mournful vision of the vanities of mankind, and wickedly satirizes hypocrisy and greed; and The Virginians (1857-1859).

o The Brontë sisters, Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily (1818- 1878) and Anne (1820-

1849) wrote melodramatic, terror and passionate novels addressing the features of the period in which they lived. Thus, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre (1847), full of countryside details, Shirley (1849) and Villette (1853); Emily’s unique Wuthering Heights (1847) in a description of the wild, desolate moors where the main characters conceive their passions in gigantic proportions, described with a stark realism; finally, Anne’s Agnes Grey (1847) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848).

o Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), who was considered to be the most successful of

the followers of Dickens, specialized in the mystery novel to which he sometimes added a spice of the supernatural. Thus The Dead Secret (1857), The Woman in White (1860) and The Moonstone (1868) as one of his earliest detective stories.

o Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), who was strongly criticized by his stark pesimism

in his writing. Among his most famous works, we highlight Tess of the

D’Urbevilles (1891), Poems of the past and present (1901), The dynasts (1903-

1908), and Moments of Vision (1917). He is regarded as one of the first modernists in content, attitude rather than form.

o Charles Dickens (1812-1870), who showed in all his novels a great interest in

Social Reform at his time. His novels, full to overflowing with drama, humor, and an endless variety of vivid characters and plot complications, nonetheless spare nothing in their portrayal of what urban life was like for all classes.

o Finally, among many others not mentioned, we find Joseph Conrad (1857-

1924) and Rudyard Kipling (1865- 1936), who were profoundly preoccupied with the consequences of imperalism and the British empire expansion, namely in Africa and India, respectively.

3.2.2. Poetry.

The Victorian Age produced literary works of a high qua lity, but, except in the novel, the amount of actual innovation is by no means great since there were many attempts at purely narrative poetry. Despite the efforts to revive the epic, the impulse was not sufficiently strong. In the early nineteenth century we may higlight some preeminent poets of the Victorian Age, such as:

Alfred, Lord Tennyson whose poetry, although romantic in subject matter, was tempered by personal melancholy; in its mixture of social certitude and religious doubt it reflected the age.

The poetry of Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was immensely popular, though Elizabeth’s was more venerated during their lifetimes. Browning is best remembered for his superb dramatic monologues.

Rudyard Kipling was the poet of the triumphant empire, who would capture the quality of the life of the soldiers of British expansion, and would reflect the Indian atmosphere. He also wrote in prose, among which his most popular work was The Jungle Book (1984).

In the middle of the 19th century we find the so-called Pre-Raphaelites who, led by the painter-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, sought to revive what they judged to be the simple, natural values and techniques of medieval life and art.

Other Victorian figures, such as A. E. Housman and Thomas Hardy, who lived on into the 20th century, shared a pessimistic view in their poetry.

Yet, the great innovator among the late Victorian poets was the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose concentration and originality of imagery had a profound effect on the twentieth-century poetry.

In the last decade of the century, we find the so-called decadents, who pointed out the hypocrisies in Victorian values and institutions. among them in both notoriety and talent. Among them, we find the notorious figure of Oscar Wilde, who also wrote sickly sentimentalist poems, together with some pieces of fiction.

3.2.3. Drama.

Following Albert (1990), “from the dramatic point of view the first half of the nineteenth century was almost completely barren” since the professional theatre of the period was in a low state and the greater part of the dramatists work never saw the stage. “The popular pieces of the day were melodrama, farces and sentimental comedies, which had no literary qualities whatever, were poor in dialogue and negligible in characterization, and relied for their success upon sensation, rapid action, and spectacle”. Yet, towards the end of the nineteenth century, the last decades of the reign saw major talents in a revival of literary theatre. Among the most prominent dramatists of the period we may mention Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw.

On the one hand, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) put his art into his lifestyle to such extent that he was compared to the flamboyant Byron’s style. He was also a brilliantly provocative critic, but his distinction namely lies in his comedies, the comedy of manners. Wilde reunited literature and theatre after a century in which poets from Shelley to Tennyson wrote poetical plays, little staged and largely forgotten. Wilde’s most popular comedies were Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of being Earnest, staged between 1892 and 1895.

On the other hand, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), whose first works were received with hostility, and the need to create his own audience led him to publish some of them before they were produced. Some of his works were Widower’s Houses (1892), Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898) and The Philanderer (1893:1905). Let us examine these two authors in detail.


In Chapter 4 we shall attempt to provide a general account of the Victorian drama and, therefore, the life, style and main works of the most prominent Victorian dramatists: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. English comedy began to decline in the eighteenth century, but was briefly revived by dramatists such as Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries have seen a revitalization of English drama with the works of Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Noël Coward, Harold Pinter, and Samuel Beckett2.

Traditionally, historians distinguish early, middle and late Victorian England, corresponding to periods of growing pains, of confidence in the 1850s, and of loss of consensus after 1880. These dates offer a convenient (and approximate) division: the early Victorian period from 1830 to

1850, in which rural England was deeply transformed due to the emergence of the Industrial Revolution; the mid Victorian period from 1850 to 1873, which saw the highest point of the British imperial expansion, and economic and political prosperity; and finally, the late Victorian period from 1873 to 1901, since 1873 is the year of the Great Depression which marks the end

clip_image002of British economic supremacy and, therefore, the decline of the British empire.

2 Note that we shall just mention, and not examine, in detail lesser dramatists since we would need more time and a wider research, but we have considered relevant to mention them in case the reader is interested in obtaining further information about them.

It is worth pointing out that both authors shared similarities and differences. Thus, their common features were that both were of Irish Protestant Dublin backgrounds; left for England, showed a different perspective of Great Britain; brought up the question of Irish representation in England; and both had a decidedly personal view of their homeland. On the contrary, despite the fact that both authors were born beyond Queen Victoria’s reign, between 1837 and 1901, they belong to different periods. Thus, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) is to be framed within the mid- late Victorian period whereas George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) is to be framed in the early twentieth century, which coincided with the emergence of modernism.

Therefore, we shall present these two dramatists in the following order: (1) Oscar Wilde (1854-

1900) as the late Victorian dramatist, (2) George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) as the modernist dramatist, and (3) other lesser dramatists of the period.

4.1. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900): a late Victorian dramatist.

In order to examine the life, style and main works of Oscar Wilde as a late Victorian dramatist, we shall namely follow Albert (1990). According to him, he was the “son of a famous Irish surgeon, and was born in Dublin. In his youth he showed brilliant promise, though his genius was perverse and wayward. He was Queen’s Scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, and Berkeley Gold Medallist for Greek studie s” (1990:476).

“In 1874 he became a scholar of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he became an apostle of the aesthetic cult of Pater. He took a Frist-class in Classical Moderations and Litterae Humaniores, and his poem Ravenna won the Newdigate Prize in 1878. From Oxford he went to Londo where he was the centre of an artificial, decadent society, famous for his wit and brillian conversation. He made an American tour in 1882 and was well received. After that he rose quickly to literary fame, but, when at the height of his powers, he was sentenced at the Old Bailey to two years’ imprisonment (1895). At the age of forty-four he died in Paris” (1990:476).

“In poetry, prose, and drama, Wilde embodies the spirit of the decadent school of the nineties. His literary descent from Pater and the Pre-Raphaelites is clearly seen in his early poetry. It is far removed in subject from the realities of ordinary life; it lacks emotional depth and is artistic and ornately decorative in style. But his earlier works, Poems (1881) and The Sphinx (1894), are overshadowed by the simpler and more powerful The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), which was written during his imprisonment” (1990:476). Note that there is nothing overtly Irish or any kind of reference to Ireland in his works.

“Wilde’s prose has the qualitites of his ealry verse. His stories and one novel are typical products of the aestheticism of his group – ingenious, witty, polished, and ornamental in style, but lacking in human warmth. Their main appeal is intellectual. Apart from Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime (1887); The Canterville Ghost (1887); The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888); and his novel, the well-known The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890); Wilde also wrote De Profundis (1897). This long retrospective work, written while he was in prison, was published in part in

1905, but the shole was not published until 1949” (1990:476).

“It is, however, as a dramatist that Wilde survives to-day. He began with two serious pieces of little worth, Vera, or the Nihilists (printed 1880) and The Duchess of Padua (printed 1883), and they were followed by Salomé (1892), which was used by Richard Strauss as the libretto for his opera of that name. Then came the four comedies on which his reputation rests: Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and, best of them all, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). They are comedies of manners in the Sheridan tradition, aristocratic in tone and outlook, and with all the conscious artistic grace and refinement of his other work” (1990:477).

“He paints a picture of the elegance and ease of the upper classes of his day, but, unlike some of his contemporaries, he has no interest in its moral implications. Again his appeal is largely intellectual; his characters are mere caricatures, often so alike as to be difficult to distinguish, and they have little human warmth. The continued popularity of his plays depends on the dialogue, with its hard glitter, its polish and scintillating wit. His cynicism finds an outlet in the profusion of neat paradoxes, and the tone suggests a rather insole nt condescension toward his audience. To Wilde’s concern with dialogue, plot and character are both subordinate. His plays are carelessly constructed, and the insincere sentimentalism of his first three comedies, were quickly seized upon by the critics. Only in The Importance of Being Earnest did Wilde achieve real artistic harmony” (1990:477).

4.2. George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950): a modernist dramatist.

In order to examine the life, style and main works of Bernard Shaw as a modernist dramatist, we shall name ly follow Albert (1990) as with Oscar Wilde. So, according to him, Shaw “was born in Dublin of Irish Protestant stock, and there received a somewhat scanty education at a number of local schools, including the Wesleyan Connexional School. Most of his cultural background he owed to his mother, a talented woman with whom, in 1876, he came to London.Here he became an active member of the Fabian Society soon after it was founded in 1884, and he not

only wrote pamphlets on politics and economics but did much pla tform speaking as his part in the campaign to disseminate the ideals of Fabian socialism” (1990:460-461).

“From 1885 to 1908 he won fame as a journalist –with the Pall Mall Gazette (1885); The World, as an art critic; The Star (1888), as a music critic; The World again (1890-94), this time as a music critic; and, most important of all, as dramatic critic for the Saturday Review (1895-

1898). It was for this paper that he wrote the well-known articles attacking the sentimentality

and insincerity of the theatre of the nineties. In the meantime, after an abortive attempt to become a novelist (he wrote four unsuccessful novels: Immaturity, The Irrational Knot, Love among the Artists, and Cashel Byron’s Profession), Shaw commenced dramatist with Widowers’ Houses (1892)” (1990:461).

“But none of his ten plays of the nineties met with success on the stage. Indeed, recognition was delayed for over ten years, and then it came first from abroad –on the Continent and in America. Then in 1904- 1906 the Court Theatre, under the famous Vedrenne-Barker management, presented his plays consistently, and his reputation was assured. By the end of the First World War Shaw had become a cult. In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature , and four years later Sir Barry Jackson founded the Shaw Festival at Malvern, for which Shaw wrote new plays until 1949, when his last full- length play, Buoyant Billions, was performed there. At the time of his death in 1950, such was the strength of the ‘Shaw legend’, there were few who did not know him as a personality, though many may not have known his work” (1990:461).

Regarding his style, we may hightlight the relevance of his ideas since he always adopted the role of entertainer in his works. He aimed at the bettering of the lot of humanity, the analysis of man and his social institutions with intellectual courage and irreverent sight, landlords, prostitution, marriage conventions, social prejudices, the romanticized soldier, the glamorous historical figure, the medical profession, the critics, and religion, among others. His earliest works are said to be emphatically socialist whereas in his latter works the main theme was religion.

Also, his prefaces are regarded as striking since they are authoritarian and emphatic in tone. They are written with attractive geniality and incisive style; his wit is the very essence of his comedies, in which the sense of humour is uncontrolled and the result is disturbing, always with a serious purpose underlying his fun; on the other hand, his characters are said to be the followers of Shakespeare’s ones, though he lacks almost entirely that interest in the individual per se which is one of Shakespeare qualities. His characters are seen as the good and bad products of social forces or as the representatives of ideas; his dialogue is brief, witty and full of

reasoned arguments; finally, his dramatic technique is based on the use of the art of surprise, apart from using innovations iin the use of the long stage direction in dialogues and prefaces.

“Shaw’s plays are here considered in the order of their composition. His first works were received with hostility, and the need to create his own audience led him to publish some of them before they were produced. Where, in the following account, two dates are given for a play, they indicate the date of composition and the date of first production. A single date indicates that the play was produced almost as soon as completed. Of his later pieces, few, except those which he withheld from the stage, had difficulty in finding a producer, though his work was first seen in places as far apart as Newcastle, New York, Croydon, and Warsaw” (1990:461).

Among this most well-known plays we include “Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898) contained seven works, three “unpleasant,” four “pleasant.” The “unpleasant” were Widowers’ Houses (1892), Mrs Warren’s Profession (1894: banned by the censor, privately produced 1902: publicly produced 1925), and The Philanderer (1893: 1905). The first two are unflinching and deep examinations of slum landlordism and organized prostitution respectively. They are well constructed and contain flashes of Shavian wit, but their serious realism proved unpalatable for the times and merely brought their author notoriety. The same arnestness mars the more narrowly topical The Philanderer, a satire on the pseudo-Ibsenites and their attitude to woman” (1990:462).

“Having failed to put over his ideas directly and seriously, Shaw adopted a humorous, witty approach in the first of the “pleasant” plays – Arms and the Man (1894) – an excellent and amusing stage piece which pokes fun at the romantic conception of the soldier, and which has since achieved great popularity. It was the first of the truly Shavian plays. Candida (1895), which presents a parson, his wife, and a poet involved in ‘the eternal triangle’, has more human warmth than many of his works, and the main interest is focused on the characters rather than on any thesis. This interest in character is seen in the study of Napoleon in the amusing but slight The Man of Destiny (1895:1897), and in the witty and spirited You Never Can Tell (1897:1899). In both, Shaw’s views are less stridently proclaimed, though in the former his attempts to show the ‘ordinariness’ of Napoleon lead him to produce a rather unsatisfactory character” (1990:462).

The Devil’s Disciple (1897), Caesar and Cleopatra (1898:1899), and Captain Brassbounds’ Conversion (1899:1900) were collected in Three Plays for Puritans (1901). The first satirizes the melodrama by using all its ingredients with a typically Shavian difference. It also shows the humanity of a supposed villain and pokes fun at the rigid narrowness of the people who scorned

him. It is full of fun, excellently constructed, and has been very pupular. Caesar and Cleopatra, though on a more lavish sclae, does for its two main characters what The Man of Destiny did for Napoleon, studies great historical personages as ordinary human beings. The character of Caesar is interesting as an embodiment of Shaw’s idea of a leader of men –energetic, courageous, and controlling his passions by his reason. Captain Brassbound’s Conversion treats of the stupidity of revenge as a guiding force in life. The theme is well handled, and the moral is veiled by thoroughly amusing comedy” (1990:462).

Man and Superman (1903:1905), one of Shaw’s most important plays, deals half seriously, half comically, with woman’s pursuit of her mate. The play is Shaw’s first statement of his idea of the Life Force working through human beings toward perfection, and this, he feels here, can be reached only by the selective breeding which will eventually produce the superman. The play is unconventional in its construction, especially in the third act, entitled “Don Juan in Hell,” but it is a fine drama and contains three notable characters in Ann Whitefield, John Tanner, and

‘Enery Straker” (1990:462).

John Bull’s Other Island (1904) is a good-humoured satire on English and Irish prejudices as seen chiefly in the characters of Tom Broadbent and Larry Doyle, about whom the play revolves. It was originally written for the Irish National Theatre, but was not well received there. Religion and social problems are again the main topics in Major Barbara (1905), which deals with the paradoxical situation where the attempts of the Salvation Army to remedy social evils can only be continued through the charity of those whose money-getting has caused those evils. The same critical alertness and depth of insight are brought to bear on the medical profession in his amusing satire The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906), and on the marriage conventions in Getting Married (1908)” (1990:463).

The Shewing Up of Blanco Posnet (1909) is a melodramatic piece about religious conversion against a background of horse-stealing and lynch- law in the West. Banned as blasphemous by the censor, it was first produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. Next came one of his least satisfactory works, Misalliance (1910), which contains little beyond a rather inconclusive discussion of the parent-child relationship, and then the slight but witty The Dark Lady of the Sonnets (1910). In Fanny’s First Play (1911) and Androcles and the Lion (1912) Shaw once again took religion as his main theme.”

“Social conventions and social weaknesses were treated again in Pygmalion (1912:1913), a witty and highly entertaining study of class distinction, and in Heartbreak House (1913:1921), which, though set in the war period, really treats of upper-class disillusionment during the pre-

War years. This over-lengthy conversation piece is modelled on the drama of Chekhov, and its loose construction reflects Shaw’s absorption in his theme at the expense of his form, but as social criticism it goes deep, and it contains a number of well- drawn characters, chief among them Captain Shotover”.

Back to Methuselah (1921) and St Joan (1923:1924) are further studies of religion, the latter being Shaw’s finest play. In it the independence of the true Protestant is seen in opposition to the forces of organized society. Joan herself is a finely drawn character, and, in spite of its length and the great quantity of discussion it contains, the play is most effective on the stage. None of the plays written after St Joan is comparable in quality with his best work (1990:464)” Among them we may include “The Apple Cart (1929); Too True to be Good (1932); On the Rocks (1933); The Six of Calais (1934); The Simpleton of the Unexpected Isles (1934); The Millionaires (1936); Geneva (1938); In Good King Charles’s Golden Days (1939); and Buoyant Billions (1949).”

4.3. Other lesser dramatists.

Among other lesser dramatists we include John Millington Synge (1871-1909), who was the greatest dramatist in the rebirth of the Irish Theatre and had a unique style since his plays were written in prose, by had the rhythms and cadences of poetry. Thus, The Shadow of the Glen (1903) and The Tinker’s Wedding (1907); Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929), Sir Arthur Wing Pinero (1855- 1934), and John Galsworthy (1867-1933). Noël Coward, Harold Pinter, and Samuel Beckett.


Literature, and therefore, literary language is one of the most salient aspect of educational activity. In classrooms all kinds of literary language (poetry, drama, novel, prose –novel, short story, minor fiction- , periodicals) either spoken or written, is going on for most of the time. Yet, handling literary productions in the past makes relevant the analysis of ‘literature in the Victorian period and the early twentieth century literature, in particular, the dominance of the

novel and the revival of drama: Hence it makes sense to examine the historical background of Britain and Ireland within the nineteenth and early twentieth century so as to provide an appropriate context for these two Irish authors.

Currently, action research groups attempt to bring about change in classroom learning and teaching through a focus on literary production under two premises. First, because they believe learning is an integral aspect of any form of activity and second, because education at all levels must be conceived in terms of literature and history. The basis for these assumptions is to be found in an attempt, through the use of historical events, to develop understanding of students’ shared but diverse social and physical environment.

Learning involves a process of transformation of participation itself which has far reaching implications on the role of the teacher in the teaching- learning relationship. This means that literary productions are an analytic tool and that teachers need to identify the potential contributions and potential limitations of them before we can make good use of the historical events which frame the literary period. So, literature productions may be easily approached by means of the subjects of History, Language and Literature by establishing a paralelism with the Spanish one (age, literature forms, events).

Since literature may be approached in linguistic terms, regarding form and function (morphology, lexis, structure, form) and also from a cross-curricular perspective (Sociology, History, English, French, Spanish Language and Literature), Spanish students are expected to know about the history of Britain and its influence in the world. In addition, one of the objectives of teaching the English language is to provide good models of almost any kind of literary productions for future studies.

Moreover, nowadays new technologies may provide a new direction to language teaching as they set more appropriate context for students to experience the target culture. Present-day approaches deal with a communicative competence model in which first, there is an emphasis on significance over form, and secondly, motivation and involvement are enhanced by means of new technologies. Hence literary productions and the history of the period may be approched in terms of films and drama representations in class, among others, and in this case, by means of books (novels: historical, terror, descriptive), paper (essays), drama (opera, comedies, plays), among others.

Actually, Wilde’s influence upon 20th-century literature was wide since most of his works have been approached in terms of literature, operas or films. For instance, his well-known novels The

Sphinx (1894), The Canterville Ghost (1887); The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888); and his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) have been filmed; and even his drama masterpiece Salomé (1892) was used by Richard Strauss as the libretto for his opera of that name. On the other hand, we must not forget that, by the end of the First World War, Shaw had become a cult, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, a festival with his name was founded: the Shaw Festival at Malvern in 1929 (by Sir Barry Jackson), and eventually, att the time of his death (1950) he was a legend though many may not have known his works.

The success partly lies in the way literary works become real to the users. Some of this motivational force is brought about by intervening in authentic communicative events. Otherwise, we have to recreate as much as possible the whole cultural environment in the classroom by means of novels, short stories, documentaries, history books, or their family’s stories. This is to be achieved within the framework of the European Council (1998) and, in particular, the Spanish Educational System which establishes a common reference framework for the teaching of foreign languages where students are intended to carry out several communication tasks with specific communicative goals, for instance, how to locate a literary work within a particular historical period.

Analytic interpretation of texts in all genres should become part of every literary student’s basic competence (B.O.E., 2004). There are hidden influences at work beneath the textual surface: these may be sociocultural, inter and intratextual. The literary student has to discover these, and wherever necessary apply them in further examination. The main aims that our currently educational system focuses on are mostly sociocultural, to facilitate the study of cultural themes, as our students must be aware of their current social reality within the European framework.


Since literature reflects the main concerns of a nation at all levels, it is extremely important for students to be aware of the close relationship between History and Literature so as to understand the main plot of a novel, short story, or any other form of literary work. In this unit, we have particularly approached the period of the Victorian Age and Imperialism as a time of great changes, with an atmosphere of well-fare and confidence at the beginning of the century and towards the end, with an atmosphere of decadence.

The aim of this unit was to present an account of two Irish dramatists, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. We have organized, for the sake of clarity, our presentation in three main chapters which correspond to the main tenets of this unit: (1) a historical background of Great Britain in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, (2) the literary background of the time, that is, the Victorian literature and the birth of modern literature, and finally, an analysis of (3) the Victorian drama, where we shall find the works of the two authors under study.

The historical background of Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th century has frame the works of these two authors within the context of the following events (1) up to the late nineteenth century in Great Britain, such as (a) the Industrial Revolution as a a model of historical transformation in general terms, and (b) the development of the British Empire, already in the second phase of imperial expansion; and (2) the early twentieth century and its relationship with the Irish question so as to better understand our two main authors’ background.

Chapter 3 has provided a literary background for the Victorian literature and the birth of modern literature where we have analysed (1) the main features of both literary periods; (2) the main literary forms of the time, thus (a) prose, (b), poetry and (c) drama; and within this latter, we shall examine the main features of Victorian drama and early twentieth century drama, fully developed in next chapter, where we hanve provided a general account of the Victorian drama and, therefore, the life, style and main works of the most prominent Victorian dramatists already mentioned. We have introduced the two authors according to their chronology in the Victorian period, that is, Oscar Wilde (1854- 1900) as a late Victorian dramatist, and George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) as a modernist dramatist, and finally, (3) other lesser dramatists.

Finally, we have presented the main educational implications in language teaching regarding the introduction of this issue in the classroom setting, and we are already in the conclusion where we have broadly overviewed our study. Next, we briefly present all the bibliographical references used to develop this study since they were already commented at the beginning.

So far, we have attempted to provide the reader in this presentation with a historical background on the vast amount of literature productions in the Victorian period and its further developments up to the nineteenth and twentieth century. This information is relevant for language learners, even 2nd year Bachillerato students, who do not automatically establish similiarities between British, Spanish and worldwide literary works. So, learners need to have these associations brought to their attention in cross-curricular settings. As we have seen, understanding how literature developed and is reflected in our world today is important to students, who are

expected to be aware of the richness of English literature, not only in Great Britain but also in other English-speaking countries.


Alexander, M. 2000. A History of English Literature. Macmillan Press. London.

B.O.E. 2004. Consejería de Educación y Cultura. Decreto N.º 116/2004, de 23 de enero. Currículo de la Educación Secundaria Obligatoria en la Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia.

B.O.E. 2004. Consejería de Educación y Cultura. Decreto N.º 117/2004, de 23 de enero. Currículo de Bachillerato en la Comunidad Autónoma de la Región de Murcia.

Council of Europe (1998) Modern Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. A Common

European Framework of reference.

Escudero, A. 1988. La Revolución Industrial. Anaya.

Magnusson, M., and Goring, R. (eds.). 1990. Cambridge Biographical Dictionary. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sanders, A. 1996. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. Oxford University Press. Speck, W.A. 1998. Literature and Society in Eighteenth-Century England: Ideology Politics

and Culture 1680-1820. Book Reviews.

Thoorens, Léon. 1969. Panorama de las literaturas Daimon: Inglaterra y América del Norte. Gran Bretaña y Estados Unidos de América. Ediciones Daimon.

Other sources include:

Microsoft (R). 1997. Encyclopedia Encarta . Microsoft Corporation.

Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (The). 2003. 6th ed. Columbia University Press.