05 August, 2006

Sidebar: Candida and Pygmallion by George Bernard Shaw

Anyone have any thoughts on these two plays?

I read them both at the start of my vacation, and they were very thought provoking. These have nothing to do with the Presbuteras series, but are thrown out there for conversation for its own sake.

*** Spoilers follow. If you don't want to know how they end, move to another post :-) ***

The staged Pygmallion ends with the protagonists separating on somewhat icy terms, but with no real reason not to believe they eventually marry. All well and good. The written play, though, continues with a long note by Mr. Shaw stating that everyone who thinks that is how the story really ends is just enfeebled by their lazy dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me-downs of the ragshop in which Romance keeps its stock of "happy endings" to misfit all stories.

He spends a number of pages informing us that a strong person must always marry a weak person or not marry at all. An especially strong man raised by a good mother, who gives him all the refining things of life, and teaches him to entertain himself, need never marry at all. The vulgarity of the marriage relationship will not even appeal to him. In any case, he asserts, two strong people can never marry. The strong man with a strong mother, for example:

If an imaginative boy has a sufficiently rich mother who has intelligence, personal grace, dignity of character without harshness, and a cultivated sense of the best art of her time to enable her to make her house beautiful, she sets a standard for him against which very few women can struggle, besides effecting for him a disengagement of his affections, his sense of beauty, and his idealism from his specifically sexual impulses. ... when we look around and see that hardly anyone is too ugly or disagreeable to find a wife or a husband if he or she wants one, whilst many old maids and bachelors are above average in quality and culture, we cannot help suspecting that the disentanglement of sex from the associations with which it is so commonly confused, a disentanglement which persons of genius achieve by sheer intellectual analysis, is sometimes produced or aided by parental fascination.

Shaw "afterwards" the story by telling us that Eliza marries the spineless male of the story, Freddy, who truly loves her, rather than marry the male protagonist who will never really need her. Freddy is agreeably weak, and dotes on her happily. Higgins, the male protagonist, would never be happy with anyone between himself and his passions. So, in marrying Freddy, she makes all three of the characters happier in the end.

Who agrees?

In Candida, Mr. Shaw does something different, but reaches the same conclusion. He gives us a presentable and personable priest who is diligent in his work and loved by all. This priest is married to Candida, who is in all respects perfect in his eyes. Introduced into the mix is an 18 year old poet who is passionately entranced with Candida.

The passionate poet and the pedestrian priest slowly escalate a private confrontation over the heart of Candida until, in the last act, Candida catches wind of what's going on. She confronts them both in the only way that the brutish men will understand - directly and together.

Candida recalls for the poet that her priest has won many trophies in his life, and that he has no idea how he won them. He won them because his mother and sisters spoiled him from the cradle and made countless sacrifices to enable him to concentrate on winning them.

Candida: Ask James's mother and his three sisters what it cost to save James the trouble of doing anything but be strong and clever and happy. Ask me what it costs to be James's mother and three sisters and wife and mother to his children all in one. Ask the [hired help] how troublesome the house is even when we have no visitors to help us slice the onions. Ask the tradesmen who want to worry James and spoil his beautiful sermons who it is that puts them off. When there is money to give, he gives it: when there is money to refuse, I refuse it. I build a castle of comfort and indulgence and love for him, and stand sentinel always to keep little vulgar cares out. I make him master here, though he does not know it, and could not tell you a moment ago how it came to be so. ...

She then turns to the poet and asks.

Am I your mother and sisters to you?

To the poet, she is only a siren, and he storms off into the night, allowing the story its "happy" ending.

Like I said. It made me think. If it does you too, I'd be curious what are your thoughts.


Andreia said...

Oh I so love that you read this. Will return after church with a note on this!

Danny Kaye said...

Well, anyone who knows me knows how much I love the old stuff. But even now, I can only speak on Pygmaillion. I have not read the play, but I own the film put out in the 30's or 40's. And I also own My Fair Lady (which is the musical remake of Pygmallion.)

I know Shaw wrote the thing, but I have to disagree with him. I don't believe that Higgins did not love Eliza. Nor do I believe that Higgins did not need Eliza. When we compare Freddy's style of courtship to Higgins's, I can see why the audience gets that impression. But you absolutely cannot measure love by the style of courtship, even if one doesn't look anything like courtship.

By the end of the performance, all are convinced that, for the first time in his life, Higgin's would have a large gap in his very soul if Eliza never came back.

I believe, that by the end of the perfomance, the weak/strong roles are reversed. Eliza has the upper hand on the man for whom she either loves, or at least wants to love. And Higgins is a man whose shields have been penetrated by Cupid's arrows.

codepoke said...

Thanks for the thoughts, DK. I am sitting here chuckling, though, because it would never occur to me to take the tack you're tracking. Telling the author of the work that he is simply wrong about what his characters are thinking - well, there goes another Gordian Knot. :-)

Danny Kaye said...

Yeah, the way I see it is, if it ain't Scripture, then I can argue with he author. I would like to see him prove me wrong!

(from the grave?...yeah, I know...)

Danny Kaye said...

By the way, Codepoke. Did you notice that you've been tagged?

codepoke said...

No, DK. It's been so crazy I have not been reading the blogs at all, much less like I'd like to. My loss, and I regret it.

Milly said...

Danny I always felt that he loved her too. Perhaps the writer was trying to put his feeling about a woman away and that’s how he did it. What’s he going to do contact the Montel Williams show when Silvia is on to argue with us? We don't watch it so we wouldn't hear it. So :-p

Andreia said...

No! Henry couldnt have loved her. He was too busy loving himself or Science or Art! Truly even for those who have only seen the movie you can not suggest that his insistence on her getting his slippers is indicative of love?

True love, if you will allow me the rather overused term is selfless! Anyone remember 1 Corinthians 13?

I am perplexed by Shaws ideas that one partner is strong while the other is weak. I would love to dismiss it outright but I can see too many relationships that fit this recipe EXACTLY!

Perhaps it requires further parsing. In simple terms it may hold true, but upon further examination of most relationships, I think one would find that each partner displays strengths in differing arenas. Unfortunately, we are not likely to see that in action as some of the characteristics which I might point out tend to reside in the female, are not those that society heralds. Who afterall, other than Christ, holds meekness or humility as an desirable attribute to acquire?

codepoke said...


I was waiting patiently. :-)

I am with you here.

Henry was a self-centered brat, and he seems to be Shaw's ultimate hero. In Shaw's economy, Eliza finds a way to get to Henry, but won't sink low enough to use it, so they are at a standoff. Both are strong, and both are on the brink of losing everything. So, they part company. Therefore, Shaw manages to make them both perfectly self-centered, a la Ayn Rand.

I would love to dismiss it outright but I can see too many relationships that fit this recipe EXACTLY!

Exactly as you say.

I think one would find that each partner displays strengths in differing arenas.

Ah. A breathe of fresh air. Yes, thank you.

I have to believe that God's pattern of love between a man and a woman does not require one to sink whether into nothingness as in Pygmallion or selflessness as in Candida. God's pattern is clearly one of headship, in that all blessing flows from God to us, but it is also a pattern of perfect reflection, in that all we receive we return to Him. We are not passives under His command, but actively love Him back with the strength of an army under full banners.

Who afterall, other than Christ, holds meekness or humility as an desirable attribute to acquire?

Haha. Yeah.

I'm glad Eliza did not marry Henry. I would hate to see her suffer under his wrongheadedness. She deserves better. I never did find him likeable.

Milly said...

I'm glad Eliza did not marry Henry.

So was I, yet I still think he loved her. How did he love her? Not as much as he loved who he was. To have love and stay in love we must love who we are when we are with those we love. No love who we are more. He couldn’t love her like she should be loved because he loved himself with and without her.

codepoke said...

You know, I can kind of go for that, Milly. I'm sure he loved her, just really, really poorly.

...we must love who we are when we are with those we love.

Now that's a tough one. It makes me think.

I need a moonpie.

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work » » »