Final Days of Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw

About the final days of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, biography and history.


GEORGE BERNARD SHAW, Irish playwright

Died: Shaw's corner, Ayot St. Lawrence, England, Nov. 2, 1950, 4:59 A.M.

At 94, Shaw had slowed physically, but his mind was sharp and his wit still caustic. He was also still writing plays; his last play, unfinished, was Why She Would Not, published in 1956. He had just finished a rhyming guide to the village of Ayot St. Lawrence, his home since 1906, which he had illustrated with his own photos. One of his favorite pastimes was puttering in his yard, and on September 10 he decided to prune some trees. Missing his step at one point, he fell and fractured his thigh. In an operation next day at Luton Hospital, the bone was set; having little use for doctors and nurses, he characteristically proceeded to give them a hard time. "Already he has demanded of his nurse a certificate proving that he has had his bed bath," reported The New York Times on Sept. 13, "because 'otherwise someone will come along in five minutes and give me another one.'" The hip knitted very well, but Shaw's fall had aggravated a latent kidney and bladder infection, so he underwent two more operations, which weakened him. "When Shaw guessed that he might live only to become a bedridden invalid," reported Time, "he lost interest in the business." He was taken home, to his immense relief, where he sat huddled and blanketed in a wheelchair in his garden, serenely declining food and moving deliberately toward death. Lady Nancy Astor visited him in late October. "Oh, Nancy, I want to sleep, to sleep," he told her. To nurse Gwendoline Howell he said, "You're trying to keep me alive as an old curiosity, but I'm done, I'm finished, I'm going to die." Just before he lapsed into a final, 26-hour coma on Nov. 1, he told visitor Eileen O'Casey, "Well, it will be a new experience, anyway." The two nurses who were with him at the end said that he seemed to smile quizzically before he died. Rev. R. G. Davies, the Anglican clergyman who visited the self-styled communist and atheist in his last hours, remarked that "Mr. Shaw was not really an atheist. I would call him rather an Irishman."

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