In the early, almost mythical, 1960s, Charlotte Payne-Townshend, the wife of George Bernard Shaw, was the subject of a thoroughly informative biography that managed to justify its existence while making only modest claims for Mrs. G.B. S.[1] Although some of the questions that it raised had their expected Freudian ring (What did she learn from her parents’ unhappy marriage? Was there sex between the Shaws?), they were handled with care and delicacy, out of deference—one presumes—to the famous man as well as to the limits of then current knowledge. Since Charlotte Payne-Townshend had not herself done anything much more noteworthy than marry the skittish Shaw, there were no real surprises in Mrs. G B. S., except perhaps that Shaw’s wife for nearly half a century seemed less recoverable than one would have thought. Janet Dunbar’s vivid portrait of the...


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