“I NEVER…DREAM OF ATTEMPTING TO READ YOUR LONG LETTERS. …
YOU WRITE THEM TO RELIEVE YOURSELF,
WITHOUT THE SLIGHTEST CONSIDERATION FOR ME…
THEY MEET THE FATE THEY DESERVE.”
“I HAVE READ THE PLAY.
…IT IS MADE IMPOSSIBLE BY YOUR NYMPHOMANIA.”
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW. British playwright, novelist and critic. Letter Signed, initials, two pages, oblong octavo, Ayot St. Lawrence, Welwyn, June 22, 1909. On his imprinted stationery, to My dear Emerica [Erica Cotterill].
“It is no use calling on me: I am engaged up to the last minute every afternoon this week after my return to town; and I am rehearsing in the mornings. Do write a separate short letter or postcard when you make any practical proposal of this kind. I never now dream of attempting to read your long letters when they come. They have to be left for spare moments; and they often don’t get read at all. You write them to relieve yourself, without the slightest consideration for me; and as they are all the same, they meet the fate they deserve.
“I have read the play. It shews, of course, remarkable literary power and dramatic talent; but it is made impossible by your nymphomania. There are two men in it (so-called), one a satyromaniac, the other a mere imaginary male figment to focus the nymphomania of all the women. The thing has a certain value as a document, and would no doubt interest young people. It bores old people, and rather disgusts them. I am an old person; and you have got nearly to the end of my patience. I am not preaching or striking moral attitudes for your good: I am telling you quite frankly as one unaffected human being to another that if you can write & think about nothing but your adolescence I will neither read your letters or meet you if I can possibly help it. These letters contain perhaps one single sentence which mentions an amusing or interesting fact: all the rest is a slovenly muddle of oh dears and oh please and sort of and you know which is quite maddening and which generally ends in a proposal to come to London and paw me which simply curdles my blood. I would not stand it from Cleopatra herself. All this is transfigured by your adolescence into something very touching & beautiful; but I am not adolescing but senescing, and it is intolerably disagreeable to me. So drop it or you will drop me. Keep it for young people who idealize you. To me you are only a quite disgustingly ill behaved young devil, grossly abusing the privilege of my acquaintance.”
Doubtless this letter had little effect on Erica Cotterill, an irrepressibly flirtatious young woman who bombarded Shaw with letters that were strange, rambling and often unintelligible. The following year (1910), when George Bernard Shaw wrote Misalliance (a witty, comic play about family, marriage and social class) the impassioned Erica Cotterill wrote a play celebrating her love for Shaw and then proceeded to publish her 250,000-word correspondence with him, dedicated “To Shaw, whom I love.” (Erica’s sister was the mother of Rupert Brooke.)
At the time of this exchange, George Bernard Shaw was a well-established playwright whose output was prodigious. In 1909 alone, he wrote three plays. Three years later, his Pygmalion, on which the musical My Fair Lady is based, was enjoying a long run in front of large London audiences.
This item is associated with the following category in our inventory:
- Literature – English/Irish