There’s something about humanity that absolutely adores a writer. While much of the celebrity-obsessed world today obviously enjoys the on-screen actors and the people in front of the camera, this is a relatively new phenomenon. For centuries, the actors were just the face of the words. It was always the individual writers, like the playwrights, who enjoyed the most fame. Other than William Shakespeare, perhaps the most famous playwright in history was George Bernard Shaw.
Shaw’s influence on popular culture is undeniable, and throughout his long and illustrious life he won a Nobel Prize in Literature (1925) and even an Academy Award for an Adapted Screenplay (1938, Pygmalion). For diary buffs out there, Shaw also kept some pretty intriguing journals.
Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1856, George Bernard Shaw lived a very long life by anyone’s standards. When he passed away in 1950, he was a 94-year-old man with incredible accomplishments to his name. A big player in the naturalism movement and a very gifted comedian, Shaw’s works were often satiric, dark, and unafraid to touch on societal situations and taboos.
For all the many accomplishments he earned by way of writing stories and plays, Shaw was actually more famous as a music writer and as a literary critic. This led to hard-hitting journalism, in which Shaw was unrelenting in his dressing-down of any work he felt to be substandard. And on top of a slew of essays and short stories, he also wrote in excess of 60 plays.
Much of Shaw’s professional life was spent speaking up for the working class, especially in Ireland where he felt the lower social classes were being treated horrifically. He was also so adverse to fame and notoriety that he wanted to outright reject his Nobel Prize. It was only at his wife’s urging that he accepted it. Even still, he refused the prize money and requested that it be spent to help a fellow playwright.
Shaw’s diaries are absolutely treasured by many around the globe. Part of it obviously has to do with George’s fame and his talent, but there’s also another aspect which has kept his diaries preserved. And that’s how he actually wrote them. Throughout his many diaries, 13 of Shaw’s journals were written using Pitman shorthand with the only longhand coming by way of annotation.
Pitman shorthand is much more like a glyph than anything most can imagine. Unless you’re extremely familiar with this style, you’re better off deciphering Word’s “Chicken Wings” font. This showed just how secretive George Bernard Shaw was. It wasn’t a way to save time or space; it was a way to keep people out of his personal life, while still creating something that he himself could reflect on.
Most of his diary entries dealt with mundane issues of his daily life, while other entries are very philosophical and even bitter. The tone of his diaries changes a great deal, as George continued to make entries from his twenties into the 1940s after WW II had ended.
Unlike a lot of other famous diaries out there, not all of Shaw’s journals are available via your local bookstore. Some have been closely guarded and are only accessible via microfilm. Others have been translated and released by his secretary Blanche Patch.