Friday, March 22, 2013

The Intelligent Woman's Guide - Bernard Shaw

The full title is 'The Intelligent Woman's Guide To Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism And Fascism' and I
accepted this copy from Alma books at the tale end of last year. Unfortunately I failed to get very far with it before Christmas (there clearly wasn't enough intelligence left at the end of the working day) but it's a useful thing to have around and I've been referring to it a bit over the last few days.

On reflection it was probably never going to be a good idea to try and read my way all the way through this  book in one go. There's a lot in it to take on board, I'm not much of a non fiction reader at the best of times, and when it's not the best of times I'm very easily distracted without the hook of a plot. As a book to dip in and out of though this one has a lot to recommend it. 

The advantage of reading a book of political theory written in the 1920's is that it isn't effected by the second world war. The advantage of reading political theory by a liberal minded socialist is, for me at least, a broadly sympathetic viewpoint and so no danger of throwing the book across the room. The second world war - in Britain at least it's still 'The War', despite ending 68 years ago and inching ever closer to slipping out of living memory, and also despite the many conflicts we've been involved in since, and are involved in now. Reading the chapter on fascism in 'The Intelligent Woman's Guide' gave me one of those moments when I realise how much I understand that word to be synonymous with the Nazi's. Shaw is good on fascism. In a few pages he deals with it's attractions and how it can appear to work, before pointing out why it's a less than desirable political system (history continues to prove his point) but what really caught me out was that his great fascist dictator was Napoleon (it came as a mild surprise to me to think as well that when Shaw talks about Napoleon his distance from him in time is roughly the same as ours is to Hitler now). I think of Napoleon as being Napoleonic - certainly a dictator, but I don't recall him ever being described as a fascist in any of my brushes with him studying History. It's a little thing but it made me re-adjust my ideas and question why I think the way I do on certain subjects which is a good thing.

There are also a couple of pages on eugenics - something that crops up reasonably frequently in pre war fiction where it's not always absolutely frowned on. Shaw doesn't approve - he manages to be funny as well as convincing in his reasoning, and his point that we poisoned Socrates, crucified Christ, and burnt Joan of Arc so perhaps shouldn't assume that we have a good handle on who the right sort of people are in society holds just as well now as it did in 1924 when our science was unimaginable. 

I'm about to head off to bed to read what Shaw has to say on the subject of banking (a typical Friday night for me these days) having been struck again by how useful a volume this is to have around the house. For me that's partly because it sheds all sorts of insights into the fiction that I love, but it's also because everything I've read in here is worth discussing. No well dressed bookcase is complete without it, and every intelligent woman, (and man) ought to give it a look. 


  1. This is the very first title published in Penguin's Pelican series, and so I own a few copies, although I've never read it. As far as eugenics before the war, not only was it not absolutely frowned upon, it was positively embraced in the academic world. Many of the early papers in statistics that I have needed to read are found in the Annals of Eugenics, and there was a Chair in Eugenics at the time at University College London. I think after the war the subject was quietly renamed human genetics.

    1. Quite so, it's eye opening to realise the influence the war still has on how we understand and use certain words.

  2. I think I would love this book! I've added it to my wish list and now begin my hunt for a copy.

  3. Debbie, it's well worth a look and/or looking for :)