Although Shaw’s writing included novels, essays, and pamphlets, he is best known for his more than 50 plays, including “Arms and the Man” (1894), “Candida” (1897), “Man and Superman” (1905), “Pygmalion” (1913, later the basis for “My Fair Lady”), “Back to Methuselah” (1921) and “Saint Joan” (1923). Shaw was an active socialist and member of the Fabian Society; many of his plays have political themes lurking beneath the humor. He helped found both the Labour Party and the London School of Economics. In 1925 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for his work which is marked both by idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty.”
Born in Dublin, Shaw was the youngest of three children. Both his parents were impoverished members of the aristocracy. His father, an alcoholic, worked in the wholesale corn trade: his mother was a professional singer. Shaw was a vegetarian who neither smoked nor drank alcohol. He decided to become a writer at age 20; his career began with five unsuccessful novels and was initially a complete failure. During this period he was supported by his mother’s meager income. He tried to improve himself through self-education and by public speaking at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. In 1885 he began to find steady work writing reviews of art, books, and music, but he really came into his own when he focused on theatre criticism for the Saturday Review beginning in 1895. In 1898 he married a wealthy fellow Fabian; they remained married, despite his many affairs, until her death in 1943.