On 1 June 1898, Irish playwright and thinker George Bernard Shaw married Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend, a wealthy Irishwoman, fellow Fabian and champion of women’s rights. Shaw wrote of his new wife:
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 humour, philandering shamelessly and outrageously.
As was his wont, he considered himself captured prey, pounced upon when at his most vulnerable. “I should never have married at all,” he told his friend Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, “if I had not been dead at the time.” The nature of this perceived entrapment was that he had fallen off his bicycle and agreed to recuperate in her home. In truth, they got on terribly well. According to fellow Fabian Beatrice Webb they were “constant companions, pedalling round the country all day, sitting up late at night talking.”
When it came to sex, they reached a mutually satisfactory understanding:
As man and wife we found a new relation in which sex had no part. It ended the old gallantries, flirtations, and philanderings for both of us. Even of those it was the ones that were never consummated that left the longest and kindliest memories.
They stayed together until Charlotte’s death in 1948. In 1950, when Shaw died, their ashes were mixed, then scattered along footpaths and around the statue of Saint Joan in their garden.
This is an extract from my new biography, The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit, which will be published on 17 October 2019. Further details here.
Michael Holroyd. Bernard Shaw: the search for love 1856-1898.Chatto & Windus, 1988
G.B. Shaw. Sixteen Self-Sketches. Dodd, Mead, 1949
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. My Diaries 1900-1914: The Coalition Against Germany. A.A. Knopf, 1923