On this day…26 November

On 26 November 1926 Joyce sent congratulations to George Bernard Shaw.

Shaw had been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature for 1925, and Joyce wrote on 26 November 1926 to congratulate him. Joyce offered his felicitations to Shaw, and expressed satisfaction that the Nobel Prize for literature had gone to a fellow Dubliner once again.

The award of the Nobel Prize for literature for 1925 had initially been deferred on the basis that none of the candidates met the criteria for the award. However, on 11 November 1926, the committee announced that the 1925 award would go to George Bernard Shaw, for writing ‘which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty.’

At first, Shaw was inclined to refuse the prize, but his wife encouraged him to accept it, saying that it was an honour for Ireland. Shaw then thought he would accept the prize but reject the £7,000 prize money that was part of it, saying ‘I can forgive Nobel for inventing dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize.’

As it turned out, he could not refuse to accept the money and the committee could not give it to anyone else. Shaw decided to spend the money on translating the works of Swedish dramatist August Strindberg into English. Shaw had met Strindberg once in 1908, and had long admired his work.

Joyce was an avid reader of Shaw’s works. His library contained numerous plays and other works by Shaw, and the extensive influence of Shaw’s writing on Joyce’s has been traced by Martha Fodaski Black.

Curiously, according to Dan H Laurence, editor of Shaw’s correspondence, Joyce’s letter of 26 November 1926 was the only note of congratulations on the Nobel Prize that Shaw kept.


Sources & Further Reading:

Black, Martha Fodaski: Shaw and Joyce – The Last Word in Stolentelling, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1995.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.