Wednesday, January 27, 2021

8. Pygmalion


Pygmalion. George Bernard Shaw. 1912. 96 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: ACT I Covent Garden at 11.15 p.m. Torrents of heavy summer rain. Cab whistles blowing frantically in all directions. Pedestrians running for shelter into the market and under the portico of St. Paul's Church, where there are already several people, among them a lady and her daughter in evening dress. They are all peering out gloomily at the rain, except one man with his back turned to the rest, who seems wholly preoccupied with a notebook in which he is writing busily.

If you've ever seen the musical MY FAIR LADY, then you know the basic skeletal  plot of Pygmalion. That's my short and concise summary. 

It has been ages since I've seen the film Pygmalion starring Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller. I can't say if the play differs a little or a LOT from that film adaptation. 

I can tell you that the play differs GREATLY from the musical MY FAIR LADY. And I don't just mean the obvious: lack of singing. I mean My Fair Lady fleshes out the play by adding dozens of scenes. In the play, for example, we have NO SCENES depicting the months Eliza Doolittle was being trained by Professor Higgins. We go from her offering to pay for lessons to her first debut months later with NOTHING in between. Her first appearance is at his mother's house. It is at his mother's house she first meets Freddy Hill. (There is no racing scene). The big finale is a garden party--nothing so grand and phenomenal as in the musical. And the ending, of course, the ending is what has changed the most.

The play does offer some of the great lines that are retained in My Fair Lady. 

It is recognizable as My Fair Lady.

But in my opinion, My Fair Lady is a thousand times better than the play Pygmalion. Because we actually get more time with the characters--to see their strengths, their weaknesses, their interactions with one another. The lines have more resonance if you've seen HIGGINS behavior throughout. 

Quotes: 

Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby! You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within six miles. I can place him within two miles in London. Sometimes within two streets.

You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir, in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador's garden party. I could even get her a place as lady's maid or shop assistant, which requires better English.

THE FLOWER GIRL. Oh, we are proud! He ain't above giving lessons, not him: I heard him say so. Well, I ain't come here to ask for any compliment; and if my money's not good enough I can go elsewhere. HIGGINS. Good enough for what? THE FLOWER GIRL. Good enough for ye—oo. Now you know, don't you? I'm come to have lessons, I am. And to pay for em too: make no mistake. HIGGINS [stupent] WELL!!! [Recovering his breath with a gasp] What do you expect me to say to you? THE FLOWER GIRL. Well, if you was a gentleman, you might ask me to sit down, I think. Don't I tell you I'm bringing you business?

THE FLOWER GIRL. Oh, we are proud! He ain't above giving lessons, not him: I heard him say so. Well, I ain't come here to ask for any compliment; and if my money's not good enough I can go elsewhere.

HIGGINS. If I decide to teach you, I'll be worse than two fathers to you. Here [he offers her his silk handkerchief]! LIZA. What's this for? HIGGINS. To wipe your eyes. To wipe any part of your face that feels moist. Remember: that's your handkerchief; and that's your sleeve. Don't mistake the one for the other if you wish to become a lady in a shop.

HIGGINS. To wipe your eyes. To wipe any part of your face that feels moist. Remember: that's your handkerchief; and that's your sleeve. Don't mistake the one for the other if you wish to become a lady in a shop.

HIGGINS [tempted, looking at her] It's almost irresistible. She's so deliciously low—so horribly dirty— LIZA [protesting extremely] Ah—ah—ah—ah—ow—ow—oooo!!! I ain't dirty: I washed my face and hands afore I come, I did.

What is life but a series of inspired follies?

Time enough to think of the future when you haven't any future to think of.

Besides, do any of us understand what we are doing? If we did, would we ever do it?

HIGGINS. Nonsense! I know I have no small talk; but people don't mind. [He sits on the settee]. MRS. HIGGINS. Oh! don't they? Small talk indeed! What about your large talk? Really, dear, you mustn't stay.

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.       

I have forgotten my own language, and can speak nothing but yours.

LIZA. You want me back only to pick up your slippers and put up with your tempers and fetch and carry for you. HIGGINS. I haven't said I wanted you back at all. LIZA. Oh, indeed. Then what are we talking about? HIGGINS. About you, not about me. If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I can't change my nature; and I don't intend to change my manners. My manners are exactly the same as Colonel Pickering's. LIZA. That's not true. He treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess. HIGGINS. And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl.

HIGGINS. About you, not about me. If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I can't change my nature; and I don't intend to change my manners. My manners are exactly the same as Colonel Pickering's. The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.

HIGGINS [irritated] The question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you ever heard me treat anyone else better.

LIZA. So you are a motor bus: all bounce and go, and no consideration for anyone. But I can do without you: don't think I can't.

Sneering doesn't become either the human face or the human soul.

HIGGINS: 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.       

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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