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Preface

PREFACE

TO THE AMERICAN EDITION OF 1905


This novel was written in the year 1880, only a few years after I had
exported myself from Dublin to London in a condition of extreme rawness
and inexperience concerning the specifically English side of the life
with which the book pretends to deal. Everybody wrote novels then. It
was my second attempt; and it shared the fate of my first. That is to
say, nobody would publish it, though I tried all the London publishers
and some American ones. And I should not greatly blame them if I could
feel sure that it was the book's faults and not its qualities that
repelled them.

I have narrated elsewhere how in the course of time the rejected MS.
became Mrs. Annie Besant's excuse for lending me her ever helping hand
by publishing it as a serial in a little propagandist magazine of hers.
That was how it got loose beyond all possibility of recapture. It is out
of my power now to stand between it and the American public: all I can
do is to rescue it from unauthorized mutilations and make the best of a
jejune job.

At present, of course, I am not the author of The Irrational Knot.
Physiologists inform us that the substance of our bodies (and
consequently of our souls) is shed and renewed at such a rate that no
part of us lasts longer than eight years: I am therefore not now in any
atom of me the person who wrote The Irrational Knot in 1880. The last
of that author perished in 1888; and two of his successors have since
joined the majority. Fourth of his line, I cannot be expected to take
any very lively interest in the novels of my literary great-grandfather.
Even my personal recollections of him are becoming vague and overlaid
with those most misleading of all traditions, the traditions founded on
the lies a man tells, and at last comes to believe, about himself _to_
himself. Certain things, however, I remember very well. For instance, I
am significantly clear as to the price of the paper on which I wrote The
Irrational Knot. It was cheap--a white demy of unpretentious quality--so
that sixpennorth lasted a long time. My daily allowance of composition
was five pages of this demy in quarto; and I held my natural laziness
sternly to that task day in, day out, to the end. I remember also that
Bizet's Carmen being then new in London, I used it as a safety-valve for
my romantic impulses. When I was tired of the sordid realism of
Whatshisname (I have sent my only copy of The Irrational Knot to the
printers, and cannot remember the name of my hero) I went to the piano
and forgot him in the glamorous society of Carmen and her crimson
toreador and yellow dragoon. Not that Bizet's music could infatuate me
as it infatuated Nietzsche. Nursed on greater masters, I thought less of
him than he deserved; but the Carmen music was--in places--exquisite of
its kind, and could enchant a man like me, romantic enough to have come
to the end of romance before I began to create in art for myself.

When I say that _I_ did and felt these things, I mean, of course, that
the predecessor whose name I bear did and felt them. The I of to-day is
(? am) cool towards Carmen; and Carmen, I regret to say, does not take
the slightest interest in him (? me). And now enough of this juggling
with past and present Shaws. The grammatical complications of being a
first person and several extinct third persons at the same moment are so
frightful that I must return to the ordinary misusage, and ask the
reader to make the necessary corrections in his or her own mind.

This book is not wholly a compound of intuition and ignorance. Take for
example the profession of my hero, an Irish-American electrical
engineer. That was by no means a flight of fancy. For you must not
suppose, because I am a man of letters, that I never tried to earn an
honest living. I began trying to commit that sin against my nature when
I was fifteen, and persevered, from youthful timidity and diffidence,
until I was twenty-three. My last attempt was in 1879, when a company
was formed in London to exploit an ingenious invention by Mr. Thomas
Alva Edison--a much too ingenious invention as it proved, being nothing
less than a telephone of such stentorian efficiency that it bellowed
your most private communications all over the house instead of
whispering them with some sort of discretion. This was not what the
British stockbroker wanted; so the company was soon merged in the
National Telephone Company, after making a place for itself in the
history of literature, quite unintentionally, by providing me with a
job. Whilst the Edison Telephone Company lasted, it crowded the basement
of a huge pile of offices in Queen Victoria Street with American
artificers. These deluded and romantic men gave me a glimpse of the
skilled proletariat of the United States. They sang obsolete sentimental
songs with genuine emotion; and their language was frightful even to an
Irishman. They worked with a ferocious energy which was out of all
proportion to the actual result achieved. Indomitably resolved to assert
their republican manhood by taking no orders from a tall-hatted
Englishman whose stiff politeness covered his conviction that they were,
relatively to himself, inferior and common persons, they insisted on
being slave-driven with genuine American oaths by a genuine free and
equal American foreman. They utterly despised the artfully slow British
workman who did as little for his wages as he possibly could; never
hurried himself; and had a deep reverence for anyone whose pocket could
be tapped by respectful behavior. Need I add that they were
contemptuously wondered at by this same British workman as a parcel of
outlandish adult boys, who sweated themselves for their employer's
benefit instead of looking after their own interests? They adored Mr.
Edison as the greatest man of all time in every possible department of
science, art and philosophy, and execrated Mr. Graham Bell, the inventor
of the rival telephone, as his Satanic adversary; but each of them had
(or pretended to have) on the brink of completion, an improvement on the
telephone, usually a new transmitter. They were free-souled creatures,
excellent company: sensitive, cheerful, and profane; liars, braggarts,
and hustlers; with an air of making slow old England hum which never
left them even when, as often happened, they were wrestling with
difficulties of their own making, or struggling in no-thoroughfares from
which they had to be retrieved like strayed sheep by Englishmen without
imagination enough to go wrong.

In this environment I remained for some months. As I was interested in
physics and had read Tyndall and Helmholtz, besides having learnt
something in Ireland through a fortunate friendship with a cousin of Mr.
Graham Bell who was also a chemist and physicist, I was, I believe, the
only person in the entire establishment who knew the current scientific
explanation of telephony; and as I soon struck up a friendship with our
official lecturer, a Colchester man whose strong point was
pre-scientific agriculture, I often discharged his duties for him in a
manner which, I am persuaded, laid the foundation of Mr. Edison's London
reputation: my sole reward being my boyish delight in the half-concealed
incredulity of our visitors (who were convinced by the hoarsely
startling utterances of the telephone that the speaker, alleged by me to
be twenty miles away, was really using a speaking-trumpet in the next
room), and their obvious uncertainty, when the demonstration was over,
as to whether they ought to tip me or not: a question they either
decided in the negative or never decided at all; for I never got
anything.

So much for my electrical engineer! To get him into contact with
fashionable society before he became famous was also a problem easily
solved. I knew of three English peers who actually preferred physical
laboratories to stables, and scientific experts to gamekeepers: in fact,
one of the experts was a friend of mine. And I knew from personal
experience that if science brings men of all ranks into contact, art,
especially music, does the same for men and women. An electrician who
can play an accompaniment can go anywhere and know anybody. As far as
mere access and acquaintance go there are no class barriers for him. My
difficulty was not to get my hero into society, but to give any sort of
plausibility to my picture of society when I got him into it. I lacked
the touch of the literary diner-out; and I had, as the reader will
probably find to his cost, the classical tradition which makes all the
persons in a novel, except the comically vernacular ones, or the
speakers of phonetically spelt dialect, utter themselves in the formal
phrases and studied syntax of eighteenth century rhetoric. In short, I
wrote in the style of Scott and Dickens; and as fashionable society then
spoke and behaved, as it still does, in no style at all, my
transcriptions of Oxford and Mayfair may nowadays suggest an
unaccountable and ludicrous ignorance of a very superficial and
accessible code of manners. I was not, however, so ignorant as might
have been inferred at that time from my somewhat desperate financial
condition.

I had, to begin with, a sort of backstairs knowledge; for in my teens I
struggled for life in the office of an Irish gentleman who acted as land
agent and private banker for many persons of distinction. Now it is
possible for a London author to dine out in the highest circles for
twenty years without learning as much about the human frailties of his
hosts as the family solicitor or (in Ireland) the family land agent
learns in twenty days; and some of this knowledge inevitably reaches his
clerks, especially the clerk who keeps the cash, which was my particular
department. He learns, if capable of the lesson, that the aristocratic
profession has as few geniuses as any other profession; so that if you
want a peerage of more than, say, half a dozen members, you must fill it
up with many common persons, and even with some deplorably mean ones.
For "service is no inheritance" either in the kitchen or the House of
Lords; and the case presented by Mr. Barrie in his play of The Admirable
Crichton, where the butler is the man of quality, and his master, the
Earl, the man of rank, is no fantasy, but a quite common occurrence, and
indeed to some extent an inevitable one, because the English are
extremely particular in selecting their butlers, whilst they do not
select their barons at all, taking them as the accident of birth sends
them. The consequences include much ironic comedy. For instance, we have
in England a curious belief in first rate people, meaning all the people
we do not know; and this consoles us for the undeniable secondrateness
of the people we do know, besides saving the credit of aristocracy as an
institution. The unmet aristocrat is devoutly believed in; but he is
always round the corner, never at hand. That _the_ smart set exists;
that there is above and beyond that smart set a class so blue of blood
and exquisite in nature that it looks down even on the King with haughty
condescension; that scepticism on these points is one of the stigmata of
plebeian baseness: all these imaginings are so common here that they
constitute the real popular sociology of England as much as an unlimited
credulity as to vaccination constitutes the real popular science of
England. It is, of course, a timid superstition. A British peer or
peeress who happens by chance to be genuinely noble is just as isolated
at court as Goethe would have been among all the other grandsons of
publicans, if they had formed a distinct class in Frankfurt or Weimar.
This I knew very well when I wrote my novels; and if, as I suspect, I
failed to create a convincingly verisimilar atmosphere of aristocracy,
it was not because I had any illusions or ignorances as to the common
humanity of the peerage, and not because I gave literary style to its
conversation, but because, as I had never had any money, I was foolishly
indifferent to it, and so, having blinded myself to its enormous
importance, necessarily missed the point of view, and with it the whole
moral basis, of the class which rightly values money, and plenty of it,
as the first condition of a bearable life.

Money is indeed the most important thing in the world; and all sound and
successful personal and national morality should have this fact for its
basis. Every teacher or twaddler who denies it or suppresses it, is an
enemy of life. Money controls morality; and what makes the United States
of America look so foolish even in foolish Europe is that they are
always in a state of flurried concern and violent interference with
morality, whereas they throw their money into the street to be scrambled
for, and presently find that their cash reserves are not in their own
hands, but in the pockets of a few millionaires who, bewildered by their
luck, and unspeakably incapable of making any truly economic use of it,
endeavor to "do good" with it by letting themselves be fleeced by
philanthropic committee men, building contractors, librarians and
professors, in the name of education, science, art and what not; so that
sensible people exhale relievedly when the pious millionaire dies, and
his heirs, demoralized by being brought up on his outrageous income,
begin the socially beneficent work of scattering his fortune through the
channels of the trades that flourish by riotous living.

This, as I have said, I did not then understand; for I knew money only
by the want of it. Ireland is a poor country; and my father was a poor
man in a poor country. By this I do not mean that he was hungry and
homeless, a hewer of wood and a drawer of water. My friend Mr. James
Huneker, a man of gorgeous imagination and incorrigible romanticism, has
described me to the American public as a peasant lad who has raised
himself, as all American presidents are assumed to have raised
themselves, from the humblest departments of manual labor to the
loftiest eminence. James flatters me. Had I been born a peasant, I
should now be a tramp. My notion of my father's income is even vaguer
than his own was--and that is saying a good deal--but he always had an
income of at least three figures (four, if you count in dollars instead
of pounds); and what made him poor was that he conceived himself as born
to a social position which even in Ireland could have been maintained in
dignified comfort only on twice or thrice what he had. And he married on
that assumption. Fortunately for me, social opportunity is not always to
be measured by income. There is an important economic factor, first
analyzed by an American economist (General Walker), and called rent of
ability. Now this rent, when the ability is of the artistic or political
sort, is often paid in kind. For example, a London possessor of such
ability may, with barely enough money to maintain a furnished bedroom
and a single presentable suit of clothes, see everything worth seeing
that a millionaire can see, and know everybody worth knowing that he can
know. Long before I reached this point myself, a very trifling
accomplishment gave me glimpses of the sort of fashionable life a
peasant never sees. Thus I remember one evening during the novel-writing
period when nobody would pay a farthing for a stroke of my pen, walking
along Sloane Street in that blessed shield of literary shabbiness,
evening dress. A man accosted me with an eloquent appeal for help,
ending with the assurance that he had not a penny in the world. I
replied, with exact truth, "Neither have I." He thanked me civilly, and
went away, apparently not in the least surprised, leaving me to ask
myself why I did not turn beggar too, since I felt sure that a man who
did it as well as he, must be in comfortable circumstances.

Another reminiscence. A little past midnight, in the same costume, I was
turning from Piccadilly into Bond Street, when a lady of the pavement,
out of luck that evening so far, confided to me that the last bus for
Brompton had passed, and that she should be grateful to any gentleman
who would give her a lift in a hansom. My old-fashioned Irish gallantry
had not then been worn off by age and England: besides, as a novelist
who could find no publisher, I was touched by the similarity of our
trades and predicaments. I excused myself very politely on the ground
that my wife (invented for the occasion) was waiting for me at home, and
that I felt sure so attractive a lady would have no difficulty in
finding another escort. Unfortunately this speech made so favorable an
impression on her that she immediately took my arm and declared her
willingness to go anywhere with me, on the flattering ground that I was
a perfect gentleman. In vain did I try to persuade her that in coming up
Bond Street and deserting Piccadilly, she was throwing away her last
chance of a hansom: she attached herself so devotedly to me that I could
not without actual violence shake her off. At last I made a stand at the
end of Old Bond Street. I took out my purse; opened it; and held it
upside down. Her countenance fell, poor girl! She turned on her heel
with a melancholy flirt of her skirt, and vanished.

Now on both these occasions I had been in the company of people who
spent at least as much in a week as I did in a year. Why was I, a
penniless and unknown young man, admitted there? Simply because, though
I was an execrable pianist, and never improved until the happy
invention of the pianola made a Paderewski of me, I could play a simple
accompaniment at sight more congenially to a singer than most amateurs.
It is true that the musical side of London society, with its streak of
Bohemianism, and its necessary toleration of foreign ways and
professional manners, is far less typically English than the sporting
side or the political side or the Philistine side; so much so, indeed,
that people may and do pass their lives in it without ever discovering
what English plutocracy in the mass is really like: still, if you wander
in it nocturnally for a fitful year or so as I did, with empty pockets
and an utter impossibility of approaching it by daylight (owing to the
deplorable decay of the morning wardrobe), you have something more
actual to go on than the hallucinations of a peasant lad setting his
foot manfully on the lowest rung of the social ladder. I never climbed
any ladder: I have achieved eminence by sheer gravitation; and I hereby
warn all peasant lads not to be duped by my pretended example into
regarding their present servitude as a practicable first step to a
celebrity so dazzling that its subject cannot even suppress his own bad
novels.

Conceive me then at the writing of The Irrational Knot as a person
neither belonging to the world I describe nor wholly ignorant of it, and
on certain points quite incapable of conceiving it intuitively. A whole
world of art which did not exist for it lay open to me. I was familiar
with the greatest in that world: mighty poets, painters, and musicians
were my intimates. I found the world of artificial greatness founded on
convention and money so repugnant and contemptible by comparison that I
had no sympathetic understanding of it. People are fond of blaming
valets because no man is a hero to his valet. But it is equally true
that no man is a valet to his hero; and the hero, consequently, is apt
to blunder very ludicrously about valets, through judging them from an
irrelevant standard of heroism: heroism, remember, having its faults as
well as its qualities. I, always on the heroic plane imaginatively, had
two disgusting faults which I did not recognize as faults because I
could not help them. I was poor and (by day) shabby. I therefore
tolerated the gross error that poverty, though an inconvenience and a
trial, is not a sin and a disgrace; and I stood for my self-respect on
the things I had: probity, ability, knowledge of art, laboriousness, and
whatever else came cheaply to me. Because I could walk into Hampton
Court Palace and the National Gallery (on free days) and enjoy Mantegna
and Michael Angelo whilst millionaires were yawning miserably over inept
gluttonies; because I could suffer more by hearing a movement of
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony taken at a wrong tempo than a duchess by
losing a diamond necklace, I was indifferent to the repulsive fact that
if I had fallen in love with the duchess I did not possess a morning
suit in which I could reasonably have expected her to touch me with the
furthest protended pair of tongs; and I did not see that to remedy this
I should have been prepared to wade through seas of other people's
blood. Indeed it is this perception which constitutes an aristocracy
nowadays. It is the secret of all our governing classes, which consist
finally of people who, though perfectly prepared to be generous, humane,
cultured, philanthropic, public spirited and personally charming in the
second instance, are unalterably resolved, in the first, to have money
enough for a handsome and delicate life, and will, in pursuit of that
money, batter in the doors of their fellow men, sell them up, sweat them
in fetid dens, shoot, stab, hang, imprison, sink, burn and destroy them
in the name of law and order. And this shews their fundamental sanity
and rightmindedness; for a sufficient income is indispensable to the
practice of virtue; and the man who will let any unselfish consideration
stand between him and its attainment is a weakling, a dupe and a
predestined slave. If I could convince our impecunious mobs of this, the
world would be reformed before the end of the week; for the sluggards
who are content to be wealthy without working and the dastards who are
content to work without being wealthy, together with all the
pseudo-moralists and ethicists and cowardice mongers generally, would be
exterminated without shrift, to the unutterable enlargement of life and
ennoblement of humanity. We might even make some beginnings of
civilization under such happy circumstances.

In the days of The Irrational Knot I had not learnt this lesson;
consequently I did not understand the British peerage, just as I did not
understand that glorious and beautiful phenomenon, the "heartless" rich
American woman, who so thoroughly and admirably understands that
conscience is a luxury, and should be indulged in only when the vital
needs of life have been abundantly satisfied. The instinct which has led
the British peerage to fortify itself by American alliances is healthy
and well inspired. Thanks to it, we shall still have a few people to
maintain the tradition of a handsome, free, proud, costly life, whilst
the craven mass of us are keeping up our starveling pretence that it is
more important to be good than to be rich, and piously cheating,
robbing, and murdering one another by doing our duty as policemen,
soldiers, bailiffs, jurymen, turnkeys, hangmen, tradesmen, and curates,
at the command of those who know that the golden grapes are _not_ sour.
Why, good heavens! we shall all pretend that this straightforward truth
of mine is mere Swiftian satire, because it would require a little
courage to take it seriously and either act on it or make me drink the
hemlock for uttering it.

There was the less excuse for my blindness because I was at that very
moment laying the foundations of my high fortune by the most ruthless
disregard of all the quack duties which lead the peasant lad of fiction
to the White House, and harness the real peasant boy to the plough until
he is finally swept, as rubbish, into the workhouse. I was an ablebodied
and ableminded young man in the strength of my youth; and my family,
then heavily embarrassed, needed my help urgently. That I should have
chosen to be a burden to them instead was, according to all the
conventions of peasant lad fiction, monstrous. Well, without a blush I
embraced the monstrosity. I did not throw myself into the struggle for
life: I threw my mother into it. I was not a staff to my father's old
age: I hung on to his coat tails. His reward was to live just long
enough to read a review of one of these silly novels written in an
obscure journal by a personal friend of my own (now eminent in
literature as Mr. John Mackinnon Robertson) prefiguring me to some
extent as a considerable author. I think, myself, that this was a
handsome reward, far better worth having than a nice pension from a
dutiful son struggling slavishly for his parent's bread in some sordid
trade. Handsome or not, it was the only return he ever had for the
little pension he contrived to export from Ireland for his family. My
mother reinforced it by drudging in her elder years at the art of music
which she had followed in her prime freely for love. I only helped to
spend it. People wondered at my heartlessness: one young and romantic
lady had the courage to remonstrate openly and indignantly with me, "for
the which" as Pepys said of the shipwright's wife who refused his
advances, "I did respect her." Callous as Comus to moral babble, I
steadily wrote my five pages a day and made a man of myself (at my
mother's expense) instead of a slave. And I protest that I will not
suffer James Huneker or any romanticist to pass me off as a peasant boy
qualifying for a chapter in Smiles's Self Help, or a good son supporting
a helpless mother, instead of a stupendously selfish artist leaning with
the full weight of his hungry body on an energetic and capable woman.
No, James: such lies are not only unnecessary, but fearfully depressing
and fundamentally immoral, besides being hardly fair to the supposed
peasant lad's parents. My mother worked for my living instead of
preaching that it was my duty to work for hers: therefore take off your
hat to her, and blush.[A]

It is now open to anyone who pleases to read The Irrational Knot. I do
not recommend him to; but it is possible that the same mysterious force
which drove me through the labor of writing it may have had some purpose
which will sustain others through the labor of reading it, and even
reward them with some ghastly enjoyment of it. For my own part I cannot
stand it. It is to me only one of the heaps of spoiled material that
all apprenticeship involves. I consent to its publication because I
remember that British colonel who called on Beethoven when the elderly
composer was working at his posthumous quartets, and offered him a
commission for a work in the style of his jejune septet. Beethoven drove
the Colonel out of the house with objurgation. I think that was uncivil.
There is a time for the septet, and a time for the posthumous quartets.
It is true that if a man called on me now and asked me to write
something like The Irrational Knot I should have to exercise great
self-control. But there are people who read Man and Superman, and then
tell me (actually to my face) that I have never done anything so good as
Cashel Byron's Profession. After this, there may be a public for even
The Irrational Knot; so let it go.


LONDON, _May_ 26, 1905.

[Footnote A: James, having read the above in proof, now protests he
never called me a peasant lad: that being a decoration by the
sub-editor. The expression he used was "a poor lad." This is what James
calls tact. After all, there is something pastoral, elemental, well
aerated, about a peasant lad. But a mere poor lad! really, James,
_really_--!!!]

P.S.--Since writing the above I have looked through the proof-sheets of
this book, and found, with some access of respect for my youth, that it
is a fiction of the first order. By this I do not mean that it is a
masterpiece in that order, or even a pleasant example of it, but simply
that, such as it is, it is one of those fictions in which the morality
is original and not readymade. Now this quality is the true diagnostic
of the first order in literature, and indeed in all the arts, including
the art of life. It is, for example, the distinction that sets
Shakespear's Hamlet above his other plays, and that sets Ibsen's work as
a whole above Shakespear's work as a whole. Shakespear's morality is a
mere reach-me-down; and because Hamlet does not feel comfortable in it,
and struggles against the misfit, he suggests something better, futile
as his struggle is, and incompetent as Shakespear shews himself in his
effort to think out the revolt of his feeling against readymade
morality. Ibsen's morality is original all through: he knows well that
the men in the street have no use for principles, because they can
neither understand nor apply them; and that what they can understand and
apply are arbitrary rules of conduct, often frightfully destructive and
inhuman, but at least definite rules enabling the common stupid man to
know where he stands and what he may do and not do without getting into
trouble. Now to all writers of the first order, these rules, and the
need for them produced by the moral and intellectual incompetence of the
ordinary human animal, are no more invariably beneficial and respectable
than the sunlight which ripens the wheat in Sussex and leaves the desert
deadly in Sahara, making the cheeks of the ploughman's child rosy in the
morning and striking the ploughman brainsick or dead in the afternoon;
no more inspired (and no less) than the religion of the Andaman
islanders; as much in need of frequent throwing away and replacement as
the community's boots. By writers of the second order the readymade
morality is accepted as the basis of all moral judgment and criticism of
the characters they portray, even when their genius forces them to
represent their most attractive heroes and heroines as violating the
readymade code in all directions. Far be it from me to pretend that the
first order is more readable than the second! Shakespear, Scott,
Dickens, Dumas _père_ are not, to say the least, less readable than
Euripides and Ibsen. Nor is the first order always more constructive;
for Byron, Oscar Wilde, and Larochefoucauld did not get further in
positive philosophy than Ruskin and Carlyle, though they could snuff
Ruskin's Seven Lamps with their fingers without flinching. Still, the
first order remains the first order and the second the second for all
that: no man who shuts his eyes and opens his mouth when religion and
morality are offered to him on a long spoon can share the same
Parnassian bench with those who make an original contribution to
religion and morality, were it only a criticism.

Therefore on coming back to this Irrational Knot as a stranger after 25
years, I am proud to find that its morality is not readymade. The
drunken prima donna of a bygone type of musical burlesque is not
depicted as an immoral person, but as a person with a morality of her
own, no worse in its way than the morality of her highly respectable
wine merchant in _its_ way. The sociology of the successful inventor is
his own sociology too; and it is by his originality in this respect that
he passes irresistibly through all the readymade prejudices that are set
up to bar his promotion. And the heroine, nice, amiable, benevolent, and
anxious to please and behave well, but hopelessly secondhand in her
morals and nicenesses, and consequently without any real moral force now
that the threat of hell has lost its terrors for her, is left destitute
among the failures which are so puzzling to thoughtless people. "I
cannot understand why she is so unlucky: she is such a nice woman!":
that is the formula. As if people with any force in them ever were
altogether nice!

And so I claim the first order for this jejune exploit of mine, and
invite you to note that the final chapter, so remote from Scott and
Dickens and so close to Ibsen, was written years before Ibsen came to
my knowledge, thus proving that the revolt of the Life Force against
readymade morality in the nineteenth century was not the work of a
Norwegian microbe, but would have worked itself into expression in
English literature had Norway never existed. In fact, when Miss Lord's
translation of A Doll's House appeared in the eighteen-eighties, and so
excited some of my Socialist friends that they got up a private reading
of it in which I was cast for the part of Krogstad, its novelty as a
morally original study of a marriage did not stagger me as it staggered
Europe. I had made a morally original study of a marriage myself, and
made it, too, without any melodramatic forgeries, spinal diseases, and
suicides, though I had to confess to a study of dipsomania. At all
events, I chattered and ate caramels in the back drawing-room (our
green-room) whilst Eleanor Marx, as Nora, brought Helmer to book at the
other side of the folding doors. Indeed I concerned myself very little
about Ibsen until, later on, William Archer translated Peer Gynt to me
_viva voce_, when the magic of the great poet opened my eyes in a flash
to the importance of the social philosopher.

I seriously suggest that The Irrational Knot may be regarded as an early
attempt on the part of the Life Force to write A Doll's House in English
by the instrumentality of a very immature writer aged 24. And though I
say it that should not, the choice was not such a bad shot for a stupid
instinctive force that has to work and become conscious of itself by
means of human brains. If we could only realize that though the Life
Force supplies us with its own purpose, it has no other brains to work
with than those it has painfully and imperfectly evolved in our heads,
the peoples of the earth would learn some pity for their gods; and we
should have a religion that would not be contradicted at every turn by
the thing that is giving the lie to the thing that ought to be.

WELWYN, _Sunday, June_ 25, 1905.

George Bernard Shaw

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