Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, George Bernard Shaw, and his Struggle with Learning Difficulties

Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, George Bernard Shaw, and his Struggle with Learning Difficulties

‘A life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing’

You’ve definitely heard of him. A Nobel Prize Winner in Literature, a playwright and intellectual who has been the author of some of the world’s most inspirational quotes, himself, struggled with several learning disabilities, that reflected in his life’s struggles.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in Dublin, the son of a civil servant. His education was irregular, since he hated organised teaching. After working in an estate agent’s office for a while he moved to London as a young man (1876), where he established himself as a leading music and theatre critic in the eighties and nineties and became a prominent member of the Fabian Society, for which he composed many pamphlets. This was after years of struggle with no employment or a place to live, forcing him to be a financial burden on his mother and sisters. He began his literary career as a novelist; as a fervent advocate of the new theatre of Ibsen, he decided to write plays in order to illustrate his criticism of the English stage. His earliest dramas were called Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898). Among these, Widower’s Houses and Mrs. Warren’s Profession savagely attack social hypocrisy, while in plays such as Arms and the Man and The Man of Destiny the criticism is less fierce.

In later periods of his life, he worked on his masterpiece Saint Joan (1923), in which he rewrites the well-known story of the French maiden and extends it from the Middle Ages to the present.

Other important plays by Shaw are Caesar and Cleopatra (1901), a historical play adapted into some of the greatest films in the history of Hollywood, and Androcles and the Lion (1912). In Major Barbara (1905), one of Shaw’s most successful «discussion» plays, the audience’s attention is held by the power of the witty argument, whilst his play called The Doctor’s Dilemma (1906), , is really a comedy the humour of which is involved in the medical profession. Pygmalion(1912), a witty study written by Shaw on class distinction proved some of Shaw’s greatest successes on the stage. It is a combination of the dramatic, the comic, and the social corrective that gives Shaw’s comedies their special flavour.

Yet, Shaw did not have it easy at all, he was only in his thirties that he began to start making a living after many failed writing attempts, and his inability to focus on routine jobs led him to fail in any other professions he tried out. His learning disability has been identified by most as ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder.

Shaw’s complete works appeared in thirty-six volumes between 1930 and 1950, the year of his death.

Sources and References:

1. Nobel Prize (1969). George Bernard Shaw – A Biography.

2. Microsoft Partners in Learning (2004). Successful Individuals with Disabilities.

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