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An Unsocial Socialist - Appendix Post by :Port454 Category :Long Stories Author :George Bernard Shaw Date :June 2011 Read :1444

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An Unsocial Socialist - Appendix



My Dear Sir: I find that my friends are not quite satisfied with
the account you have given of them in your clever novel entitled
" An Unsocial Socialist." You already understand that I consider
it my duty to communicate my whole history, without reserve, to
whoever may desire to be guided or warned by my experience, and
that I have no sympathy whatever with the spirit in which one of
the ladies concerned recently told you that her affairs were no
business of yours or of the people who read your books. When you
asked my permission some years ago to make use of my story, I at
once said that you would be perfectly justified in giving it the
fullest publicity whether I consented or not, provided only that
you were careful not to falsify it for the sake of artistic
effect. Now, whilst cheerfully admitting that you have done your
best to fulfil that condition, I cannot help feeling that, in
presenting the facts in the guise of fiction, you have, in spite
of yourself, shown them in a false light. Actions described in
novels are judged by a romantic system of morals as fictitious as
the actions themselves. The traditional parts of this system are,
as Cervantes tried to show, for the chief part, barbarous and
obsolete; the modern additions are largely due to the novel
readers and writers of our own century--most of them
half-educated women,rebelliously slavish, superstitious,
sentimental, full of the intense egotism fostered by their
struggle for personal liberty, and, outside their families, with
absolutely no social sentiment except love. Meanwhile, man,
having fought and won his fight for this personal liberty, only
to find himself a more abject slave than before, is turning with
loathing from his egotist's dream of independence to the
collective interests of society, with the welfare of which he now
perceives his own happiness to be inextricably bound up. But man
in this phase (would that all had reached it!) has not yet
leisure to write or read novels. In noveldom woman still sets the
moral standard, and to her the males, who are in full revolt
against the acceptance of the infatuation of a pair of lovers as
the highest manifestation of the social instinct, and against the
restriction of the affections within the narrow circle of blood
relationship, and of the political sympathies within frontiers,
are to her what she calls heartless brutes. That is exactly what
I have been called by readers of your novel; and that, indeed, is
exactly what I am, judged by the fictitious and feminine standard
of morality. Hence some critics have been able plausibly to
pretend to take the book as a satire on Socialism. It may, for
what I know, have been so intended by you. Whether or no, I am
sorry you made a novel of my story, for the effect has been
almost as if you had misrepresented me from beginning to end.

At the same time, I acknowledge that you have stated the facts,
on the whole, with scrupulous fairness. You have, indeed,
flattered me very strongly by representing me as constantly
thinking of and for other people, whereas the rest think of
themselves alone, but on the other hand you have contradictorily
called me "unsocial," which is certainly the last adjective I
should have expected to find in the neighborhood of my name. I
deny, it is true, that what is now called "society " is society
in any real sense, and my best wish for it is that it may
dissolve too rapidly to make it worth the while of those who are
" not in society "to facilitate its dissolution by violently
pounding it into small pieces. But no reader of "An Unsocial
Socialist " needs to be told how, by the exercise of a certain
considerate tact (which on the outside, perhaps, seems the
opposite of tact), I have contrived to maintain genial terms with
men and women of all classes, even those whose opinions and
political conduct seemed to me most dangerous.

However, I do not here propose to go fully into my own position,
lest I should seem tedious, and be accused, not for the first
time, of a propensity to lecture --a reproach which comes
naturally enough from persons whose conceptions are never too
wide to be expressed within the limits of a sixpenny telegram. I
shall confine myself to correcting a few misapprehensions which
have, I am told, arisen among readers who from inveterate habit
cannot bring the persons and events of a novel into any relation
with the actual conditions of life.

In the first place, then, I desire to say that Mrs. Erskine is
not dead of a broken heart. Erskine and I and our wives are very
much in and out at one another's houses; and I am therefore in a
position to declare that Mrs. Erskine, having escaped by her
marriage from the vile caste in which she was relatively poor and
artificially unhappy and ill-conditioned, is now, as the pretty
wife of an art-critic, relatively rich, as well as pleasant,
active, and in sound health. Her chief trouble, as far as I can
judge, is the impossibility of shaking off her distinguished
relatives, who furtively quit their abject splendor to drop in
upon her for dinner and a little genuine human society much
oftener than is convenient to poor Erskine. She has taken a
patronizing fancy to her father, the Admiral, who accepts her
condescension gratefully as age brings more and more home to him
the futility of his social position. She has also, as might have
been expected, become an extreme advocate of socialism; and
indeed, being in a great hurry for the new order of things, looks
on me as a lukewarm disciple because I do not propose to
interfere with the slowly grinding mill of Evolution, and effect
the change by one tremendous stroke from the united and awakened
people (for such she--vainly, alas!--believes the proletariat
already to be. As to my own marriage, some have asked
sarcastically whether I ran away again or not; others, whether it
has been a success. These are foolish questions. My marriage has
turned out much as I expected it would. I find that my wife's
views on the subject vary with the circumstances under which they
are expressed.

I have now to make one or two comments on the impressions
conveyed by the style of your narrative. Sufficient prominence
has not, in my opinion, been given to the extraordinary destiny
of my father, the true hero of a nineteenth century romance. I,
who have seen society reluctantly accepting works of genius for
nothing from men of extraordinary gifts, and at the same time
helplessly paying my father millions, and submitting to monstrous
mortgages of its future production, for a few directions as to
the most business-like way of manufacturing and selling cotton,
cannot but wonder, as I prepare my income-tax returns, whether
society was mad to sacrifice thus to him and to me. He was the
man with power to buy, to build, to choose, to endow, to sit on
committees and adjudicate upon designs, to make his own terms for
placing anything on a sound business footing. He was hated,
envied, sneered at for his low origin, reproached for his
ignorance, yet nothing would pay unless he liked or pretended to
like it. I look round at our buildings, our statues, our
pictures, our newspapers, our domestic interiors, our books, our
vehicles, our morals, our manners, our statutes, and our
religion, and I see his hand everywhere, for they were all made
or modified to please him. Those which did not please him failed
commercially: he would not buy them, or sell them, or countenance
them; and except through him, as "master of the industrial
situation," nothing could be bought, or sold, or countenanced.
The landlord could do nothing with his acres except let them to
him; the capitalist's hoard rotted and dwindled until it was lent
to him; the worker's muscles and brain were impotent until sold
to him. What king's son would not exchange with me--the son of
the Great Employer--the Merchant Prince? No wonder they proposed
to imprison me for treason when, by applying my inherited
business talent, I put forward a plan for securing his full
services to society for a few hundred a year. But pending the
adoption of my plan, do not describe him contemptuously as a
vulgar tradesman. Industrial kingship, the only real kingship of
our century, was his by divine right of his turn for business;
and I, his son, bid you respect the crown whose revenues I
inherit. If you don't, my friend, your book won't pay.

I hear, with some surprise, that the kindness of my conduct to
Henrietta (my first wife, you recollect) has been called in
question; why, I do not exactly know. Undoubtedly I should not
have married her, but it is waste of time to criticise the
judgment of a young man in love. Since I do not approve of the
usual plan of neglecting and avoiding a spouse without ceasing to
keep up appearances, I cannot for the life of me see what else I
could have done than vanish when I found out my mistake. It is
but a short-sighted policy to wait for the mending of matters
that are bound to get worse. The notion that her death was my
fault is sheer unreason on the face of it; and I need no
exculpation on that score; but I must disclaim the credit of
having borne her death like a philosopher. I ought to have done
so, but the truth is that I was greatly affected at the moment,
and the proof of it is that I and Jansenius (the only other
person who cared) behaved in a most unbecoming fashion, as men
invariably do when they are really upset. Perfect propriety at a
death is seldom achieved except by the undertaker, who has the
advantage of being free from emotion.

Your rigmarole (if you will excuse the word) about the tombstone
gives quite a wrong idea of my attitude on that occasion. I
stayed away from the funeral for reasons which are, I should
think, sufficiently obvious and natural, but which you somehow
seem to have missed. Granted that my fancy for Hetty was only a
cloud of illusions, still I could not, within a few days of her
sudden death, go in cold blood to take part in a grotesque and
heathenish mummery over her coffin. I should have broken out and
strangled somebody. But on every other point I--weakly
enough--sacrificed my own feelings to those of Jansenius. I let
him have his funeral, though I object to funerals and to the
practice of sepulture. I consented to a monument, although there
is, to me, no more bitterly ridiculous outcome of human vanity
than the blocks raised to tell posterity that John Smith, or Jane
Jackson, late of this parish, was born, lived, and died worth
enough money to pay a mason to distinguish their bones from those
of the unrecorded millions. To gratify Jansenius I waived this
objection, and only interfered to save him from being fleeced and
fooled by an unnecessary West End middleman, who, as likely as
not, would have eventually employed the very man to whom I gave
the job. Even the epitaph was not mine. If I had had my way I
whole notion conveyed in the book that I rode rough-shod over
everybody in the affair, and only consulted my own feelings, is
the very reverse of the truth.

As to the tomfoolery down at Brandon's, which ended in Erskine
and myself marrying the young lady visitors there, I can only
congratulate you on the determination with which you have striven
to make something like a romance out of such very thin material.
I cannot say that I remember it all exactly as you have described
it; my wife declares flatly there is not a word of truth in it as
far as she is concerned, and Mrs. Erskine steadily refuses to
read the book.

On one point I must acknowledge that you have proved yourself a
master of the art of fiction. What Hetty and I said to one
another that day when she came upon me in the shrubbery at Alton
College was known only to us two. She never told it to anyone,
and I soon forgot it. All due honor, therefore, to the ingenuity
with which you have filled the hiatus, and shown the state of
affairs between us by a discourse on " surplus value," cribbed
from an imperfect report of one of my public lectures, and from
the pages of Karl Marx! If you were an economist I should condemn
you for confusing economic with ethical considerations, and for
your uncertainty as to the function which my father got his start
by performing. But as you are only a novelist, I compliment you
heartily on your clever little pasticcio, adding, however, that
as an account of what actually passed between myself and Hetty,
it is the wildest romance ever penned. Wickens's boy was far
nearer the mark.

In conclusion, allow me to express my regret that you can find no
better employment for your talent than the writing of novels. The
first literary result of the foundation of our industrial system
upon the profits of piracy and slave-trading was Shakspere. It is
our misfortune that the sordid misery and hopeless horror of his
view of man's destiny is still so appropriate to English society
that we even to-day regard him as not for an age, but for all
time. But the poetry of despair will not outlive despair itself.
Your nineteenth century novelists are only the tail of Shakspere.
Don't tie yourself to it: it is fast wriggling into oblivion.

I am, dear sir, yours truly,


The End
George Bernard Shaw's comic novel: An Unsocial Socialist

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