Lisa N's Reviews > Pygmalion

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
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Mar 16, 2011

really liked it

“My Fair Lady” is one of my very favorite musicals. I have avoided reading anything by GBS because I don’t care for his political views and because he was critical of Shakespeare. I actually enjoyed reading this play. It was very close to the “My Fair Lady” script, probably because Shaw also wrote the screenplay. (He was the first person to win both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award.) The ending of “My Fair Lady” has always been a little unsettling for me. The mythical Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with his statue, Galatea. Aphrodite brought Galatea to life and Pygmalion married her. Higgins represents Pygmalion and he feels Liza is his creation, but they do not get married.

Shaw wrote an epilogue that continues where “My Fair Lady” leaves you hanging. It has a strange twist: Higgins does not love his “Galatea,” but his mother.

“If an imaginative boy has a sufficiently rich mother who has intelligence, personal grace, dignity of character without harshness...she sets a standard for him against which very few women can struggle.....The word passion means nothing else to them.....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.” Interestingly, Shaw was married to Charlotte Payne-Townshend for over years 40 yet never consummated the marriage.

“Eliza’s instincts tell her not to marry Higgins.” She marries Freddy. Colonel Pickering sets her up in a floral shop. Freddy becomes a greengrocer. They struggle for years, Colonel Pickering bails them out from time to time, they take some business classes, and eventually make a go of it. “Eliza still manages to meddle in the housekeeping at Wimpole Street.” She realizes she is “no more to him than them slippers....Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.”

The epilogue was highly disappointing. I don’t think I will be able to watch “My Fair Lady” without looking at Higgins as some type of Shaw-ish/Nietzschean/Freudian freak.

Eliza Doolittle, on the other hand, is a delightful character: Strong, pragmatic, feisty.

A side note, Shaw pays homage to Shakespeare: {Higgins}. “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible...”


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Emespre I don't think you interpreted the comment about Higgins and his mother the way it was meant - either that, or I'm naïve or wilfully idealistic enough to have misconstrued Shaw’s intention (which, to be honest, I probably am). It appeared to me more as if he meant that Higgins had too high an expectation of people due to his mother, not that he had an Oedipal complex. Thrown in with Higgins being aromantic (probably) and/or asexual (possibly), it was more that he had no real interest in Eliza outside of that of academic curiosity and companionship.

Similarly, “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.” seemed more to be a statement that he was aromantic, disentangling sex and romance because he had no need for the latter and got any companionship he needed from Pickering and Mrs Higgins.

Your views are obviously your own and may very well be what Shaw was intending to convey, but I just thought I’d present this to you in case you found it interesting or had a rebuttal for it or whatever.


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