Author: George Bernard Shaw.
Genre: Fiction, humour, plays, literature.
\priemere Date: October 16th, 1913.
Summary: Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador's garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the day and a commentary on women's independence.
My rating: 9/10
From the Introduction:
The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They cannot spell it because they have nothing to spell it with but an old foreign alphabet of which only the consonants - and not all of them - have any agreed speech value. Consequently no man can teach himself what it should sound like from reading it; and it is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him. Most European languages are now accessible in black and white to foreigners: English and French are not thus accessible even to Englishmen and Frenchmen. The reformer we need most today is an energetic phonetic enthusiast: that is why I have made such a one the hero of a popular play.
♥ I wish to boast that Pygmalion has been an extremely successful play, both on stage and screen, all over Europe and North America as well as at home. It is so intensely and deliberately didactic, and its subject is esteemed so dry, that I delight in throwing it at the heads of the wiseacres who repeat the parrot cry that art should never be didactic. It goes to prove my contention that great art can never be anything else.
♥ PICKERING: Excuse the straight question, Higgins. Are you a man of good character where women are concerned?
HIGGINS: [moodily] Have you ever met a man of good character where women are concerned?
♥ MRS PEARCE: [stolidly] That's what I mean, sir. You swear a great deal too much. I don't mind your damning and blasting, and what the devil and where the devil and who the devil-
HIGGINS: Mrs Pearce: this language from your lips! Really!
MRS PEARCE: [not to be put off] -but there is a certain word I must ask you not to use. The girl used it herself when she began to enjoy the bath. It begins with the same letter as bath. She knows no better: she learnt it at her mother's knee. But she must not hear it from your lips.
HIGGINS: [loftily] I cannot charge myself with having ever uttered it, Mrs Pearce. [She looks at him steadfastly. He adds, hiding an uneasy conscience with a judicial air] Except perhaps in a moment of extreme and justifiable excitement.
MRS PEARCE: Only this morning, sir, you applied it to your boots, to the butter, and to the brown bread.
HIGGINS: Oh, that! Mere alliteration, Mrs Pearce, natural to a poet.
MRS PEARCE: Well, sir, whatever you choose to call it, I beg you not to let the girl hear you repeat it.
HIGGINS: Oh, very well, very well. Is that all?
MRS PEARCE: No, sir. We shall have to be very particular with this girl as to personal cleanliness.
HIGGINS: Certainly. Quite right. Most important.
MRS PEARCE: I mean not to be slovenly about her dress or untidy in leaving things about.
HIGGINS: [going to her solemnly] Just so. I intended to call your attention to that. [He passes on to Pickering, who is enjoying the conversation immensely]. It is these little things that matter, Pickering. Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves is as true of personal habits as of money. [He comes to anchor on the hearthrug, with the air of a man in an unassailable position].
MRS PEARCE: Yes, sir. Then might I ask you not to come down to breakfast in your dressing-gown, or at any rate not to use it as a napkin to the extent you do, sir. And if you would be so good as not to eat everything off the same plate, and to remember not to put the porridge saucepan out of your hand on the clean tablecloth, it would be a better example to the girl. You know you nearly choked yourself with a fishbone in the jam only last week.
HIGGINS: [routed from the hearthrug and drifting back to the piano] I may do these things sometimes in absence of mind; but surely I don't do them habitually. [Angrily] By the way: my dressing-gown smells most damnably of benzine.
MRS PEARCE No doubt it does, Mr Higgins. But if you will wipe your fingers-
HIGGINS: [yelling] Oh very well, very well: I'll wipe them in my hair in the future.
LIZA... But do you know what began my real education?
LIZA: [stopping work for a moment] Your calling me Miss Doolittle that day when I first came to Wimpole Street. That was the beginning of self-respect for me. [She resumes her stitching] And there were a hundred little things you never noticed, because they came naturally to you. Things about standing up and taking off your hat and opening doors-
PICKERING: Oh, that was nothing.
LIZA: Yes: things that shewed you thought and felt about me as if I were something better than a scullery-maid: though of course I know you would have been just the same to a scullery-maid if she had been let into the dining room. You never took off your boots in the dining room when I was there.
PICKERING: You mustn't mind that. Higgins take off his boots all over the place.
LIZA: I know. I am not blaming him. It is his way, isn't it? But it made such a difference to me that you didn't do it. You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will: but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.
LIZA: Don't sneer at me. It's mean to sneer at me.
HIGGINS: I have never sneered in my life. Sneering doesn't becomes either the human face or the human soul. I am expressing my righteous contempt for Commercialism. I don't and won't trade in affection. You call me a brute because you couldn't buy a claim on me by fetching my slippers and finding my spectacles. You were a fool: I think a woman fetching a man's slippers is a disgusting sight: did I ever fetch your slippers? I think a good deal more of you for throwing them in my face. No use slaving for me and then saying you want to be cared for: who cares for a slave? If you come back, come back for the sake of good fellowship: for you'll get nothing else. You've had a thousand times as much out of me as I have out of you: and if you dare to set up your little dog's tricks of fetching and carrying slippers against my creation of a Duchess Eliza, I'll slam the door in your silly face.
LIZA: What did you do it for if you didn't care for me?
HIGGINS: [heartily] Why, because it was my job.
ELIZA: You never thought of the trouble it would make for me.
HIGGINS: Would the world ever have been made if its maker had been afraid of making trouble? Making life means making trouble. There's only one way of escaping trouble; and that's killing things. Cowards, you notice, are always shrieking to have troublesome people killed.
LIZA: I'm no preacher: I don't notice things like that. I notice that you don't notice me.
HIGGINS: [jumping up and walking about intolerantly] Eliza: you're an idiot. I waste the treasures of my Miltonic mind by spreading them before you. Once for all, understand that I go my way and do my work without caring twopence what happens to either of us. I am not intimidated, like your father and your stepmother. So you can come back or go to the devil: which you please.
LIZA: What am I to come back for?
HIGGINS: [bouncing on his knees on the ottoman and leaning over it to her] For the fun of it. That's why I took you on.
From the Afterword:
Eliza has no use for the foolish romantic tradition that all women love to be mastered, if not actually bullied and beaten. 'When you go to women' says Nietzsche 'take your whip with you.' Sensible despots have never confined that precaution to women: they have taken their whips with them when they have dealt with men, and been slavishly idealized by the men over whom they have flourished the whip much more than by women. No doubt there are slavish women as well as slavish men; and women, like men, admire those that are stronger than themselves. But to admire a strong person and to live under that strong person's thumb are two different things. The weak may not be admired and hero-worshiped; but they are by no means disliked or shunned; and they never seem to have the least difficulty in marrying people who are too good for them. They may fail in emergencies; but life is not one long emergency: it is mostly a string of situations for which no exceptional strength is needed, and with which even rather weak people can cope if they have a stronger partner to help them out. Accordingly, it is a truth everywhere in evidence that strong people, masculine of feminine, not only do not marry stronger people, but do not shew any preference for them in selecting their friends. When a lion meets another with a louder roar 'the first lion thinks the last a bore'. The man or woman who feels strong enough for two, seeks for every other quality in a partner than strength.