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George Bernard Shaw and Charlotte Payne-Townshend


John Simkin
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In January 1896 Beatrice Webb and Sidney Webb invited Charlotte Payne-Townshend and George Bernard Shaw to their rented home in the village of Stratford St Andrew in Suffolk. Shaw took a strong liking to Charlotte. He wrote to Janet Achurch: "Instead of going to bed at ten, we go out and stroll about among the trees for a while. She, being also Irish, does not succumb to my arts as the unsuspecting and literal Englishwoman does; but we get on together all the better, repairing bicycles, talking philosophy and religion... or, when we are in a mischievous or sentimental humor, philandering shamelessly and outrageously." Beatrice wrote: "They were constant companions, pedaling round the country all day, sitting up late at night talking."

Shaw told Ellen Terry: "Kissing in the evening among the trees was very pleasant, but she knows the value of her unencumbered independence, having suffered a good deal from family bonds and conventionality before the death of her mother and the marriage of her sister left her free... The idea of tying herself up again by a marriage before she knows anything - before she has exploited her freedom and money power to the utmost."

When they returned to London she sent an affectionate letter to Shaw. He replied: "Don't fall in love: be your own, not mine or anyone else's.... From the moment that you can't do without me, you're lost... Never fear: if we want one another we shall find it out. All I know is that you made the autumn very happy, and that I shall always be fond of you for that."

Michael Holroyd has pointed out in his book, Bernard Shaw (1998): "Charlotte had an apprehension of sexual intercourse... Over the next eighteen months they seem to have found together a habit of careful sexual experience, reducing for her the risk of conception and preserving for him his subliminal illusions... Charlotte soon made herself almost indispensable to Shaw. She learnt to read his shorthand and to type, took dictation and helped him prepare his plays for the press."

Beatrice Webb recorded in her diary that Charlotte Payne-Townshend was clearly in love with George Bernard Shaw but she did not believe that he felt the same way: "I see no sign on his side of the growth of any genuine and steadfast affection." In July 1897 Charlotte proposed marriage. He rejected the idea because he was poor and she was rich and people might consider him a "fortune-hunter". He told Ellen Terry that the proposal was like an "earthquake" and "with shuddering horror and wildly asked the fare to Australia". Charlotte decided to leave Shaw and went to live in Italy.

In April 1898 Shaw had an accident. According to Shaw his left foot swelled up "to the size of a church bell". He wrote to Charlotte complaining that he was unable to walk. When she heard the news she travelled back to visit him at his home in Fitzroy Square. Soon after she arrived on 1st May she arranged for him to go into hospital. Shaw had an operation that scraped the necrosed bone clean.

Shaw's biographer, Stanley Weintraub, has pointed out: "In the conditions of non-care in which he lived at 29 Fitzroy Square with his mother (the Shaws had moved again on 5 March 1887), an unhealed foot injury required Shaw's hospitalization. On 1 June 1898, while on crutches and recuperating from surgery for necrosis of the bone, Shaw married his informal nurse, Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, at the office of the registrar at 15 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. He was nearly forty-two; the bride, a wealthy Irishwoman born at Londonderry on 20 January 1857, thus a half-year younger than her husband, resided in some style at 10 Adelphi Terrace, London, overlooking the Embankment." George Bernard Shaw later told Wilfrid Scawen Blunt: "I thought I was dead, for it would not heal, and Charlotte had me at her mercy. I should never have married if I had thought I should get well."

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Jshaw.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/WshawC.htm

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