In response to:
Pshaw! from the April 2, 1964 issue
To the Editors:
Marvin Mudrick tells us (New York Review, April 2, 1964) that Saint Joan, Man and Superman, Caesar and Cleopatra, Candida, Major Barbara, Heartbreak House, The Devil’s Disciple, and The Doctor’s Dilemma are all inferior to any five consecutive pages of Shaw’s music criticism. Later he says it is “a statement of fact” (fact!) that Shaw’s prefaces are better than his plays. But how many pages of music criticism are they better than? The formula is incomplete.
Since he quotes Tolstoy as a disparaging authority on Shaw, it may be of interest to quote Tolstoy on Shakespeare: “I have again read the whole of Shakespeare…and have experienced the same feelings still more strongly, no longer with perplexity but with a firm and unshakable conviction, that the undisputed fame Shakespeare enjoys as a great genius—which makes writers of our time imitate him, and readers and spectators, distorting their aesthetic and ethical sense, seek non-existent qualities in him—is a great evil, as every falsehood is.”
Mr. Mudrick’s article is a hardy perennial that has bloomed under different authors’ names for at least half a century, but I suppose we can expect to see it more often now as the bottom of the Shavian barrel is scraped. The publication of Shaw’s trivia and obiter dicta—as well as biographies by authors who have found new “angles” and continuing idolatrous criticism—will doubtless serve others besides Mr. Mudrick as springboards for attacking something quite different: Shaw’s major works. But Mr. Mudrick has set a mark for them to aim at. One does not quarrel with his opinions, even when he calls them facts; his pronouncements are so inclusive and final that one has at least to admire his courage. His article is a reminder of the executioner’s report in Saint Joan (if I may quote that now-defunct play). After he says that he has finished his job and that everything of Joan that would not burn is at the bottom of the river, he confidently tells Warwick: “You have heard the last of her.”