A SOCIALIST VALENTINE:
BERNARD SHAW AND MAY MORRIS
An illustrated talk by Alice McEwan, who has recently completed her doctorate based at Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St Lawrence
On 14 February 1886, Bernard Shaw noted in his diary: “Got a handsome Valentine.” The beautiful card he had received was a painting of Pre-Raphaelite maidens worshipping at his shrine, his noble profile floating above a verse and musical notation. He recognised the hand of May Morris, the daughter of his friend William Morris, the socialist, writer, and designer. Shaw wrote to May telling her that he had been sent a Valentine card, and she replied: “I must not forget to ask you about this wonderful Valentine. What female pen think you, was bold enough to put down on paper the inscrutable countenance of GBS?” The card was discovered by McEwan in an uncatalogued album of greeting cards sent to Shaw, now in the British Library.
The Valentine represents the height of May’s infatuation with Shaw, when the two were often in each other’s company, attending concerts, plays, and art exhibitions. It was designed to appeal to Shaw’s taste in art, but equally his musical interests, and reflected their shared pleasure in performing music together. Shaw’s diaries recorded evenings of ‘playing and singing’ with May, together with Socialist League entertainments where their duets took centre stage. This talk explores their relationship through the related contexts of Socialism, art, and music during the 1880s and ‘90s.
May Morris, Henry Halliday Sparling, Emery Walker and George Bernard Shaw. Hammersmith Terrace, London, 3 February 1889. Photograph: Walker & Boutall/Reproduced with kind permission of the National Trust and the Society of Authors on behalf of the Bernard Shaw Estate