Shaw Scholar Dies: Was Not a “Spiv”


Let’s take a break from the Oscars and the Grammys and the Presidential election to honor someone substantial: Dan H. Laurence, not so arguably the world’s leading scholar of George Bernard Shaw (pictured). Laurence died this past Tuesday in San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 87, and his obituary was published today in the New York Times. Laurence was ferocious in his scholarship — and ferocious in guarding his prerogatives as the world’s top-dog Shavian. According to the Times, ‘The one book Mr. Laurence was not able to write was a Shaw biography, a fact that by all accounts stung him deeply. In the late 1960s, the Society of Authors, a British organization, commissioned Michael Holroyd to write a new authorized life of Shaw. Mr. Holroyd is a noted English biographer but not an academic.’

‘As was widely reported afterward, the selection of Mr. Holroyd awakened in Mr. Laurence a certain natural combustibility. In 1976 he resigned for a time both as the editor of Shaw’s letters and as the literary adviser to the estate, a post he had held since 1973. (Mr. Laurence was later reinstated, serving until his retirement in 1990.) At the height of the fracas, Mr. Laurence publicly called Mr. Holroyd “a horse’s rear end,” “a spiv” and “an incorrigible fool,” as The New Statesman reported in 2002. It was all very un-Shavian, or perhaps not. (“Spiv,” n., slang, chiefly British: Someone who lives by his wits without being gainfully employed; a wheeler-dealer.)’

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