George Bernard Shaw

One of the great social satirist of his time, George Bernard Shaw often wrote of the social and class issues that plagued Great Britain in the years before World War One. It was during those years, under the reign of Queen Victoria, which saw Great Britain expand her empire to all the corners of the globe. With this expansion, came great wealth for many, as well as hardening of the lines of class distinction. These lines, or barriers, made it very difficult for a member of the middle class to join the ranks of the upper.

And if it was difficult for the middle class to move upwards, it was nearly impossible for the lower class to move up to the middle class. Already greatly marginalized by rigid social barriers, the lower class struggled to survive in slums concentrated in London. Among those already marginalized, was a group of those even more marginalized: the lower class woman. Faced with a life of great hardship, brought on by a lack of means and most importantly the lack of an education, the lower class woman in Victorian England faced a life of grim prospects.

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With nearly no help from the government, in the form of such social programs that exist now, she had few avenues open to her, not just to move upwards or forwards, but to merely exist. George Bernard Shaw in his play Pygmalion (1912), tells the story of impoverished flower girl under the tutelage of an older upper-middle class man, and Fisher Two with a touch of much needed humor, puts forth the plight of the . lower class woman. With his character of Eliza, the flower girl, Shaw presents the audience with a character who struggles to gain respectability due to her lack of education

In Victorian England, women, even among those of the upper class, faced a great disparity in education when compared to their male counterparts and among women in the lower class an education was almost unheard of. It was not until 1870 with the passage of The Foster Act, in which Great Britain became the last of the European countries to offer a compulsory public education (Auerbach 64), that the thought of an education among the lower class was even possible.

However, in Eliza’s situation an education as a child was not feasible, for with a mother no longer in the picture and a drunkard as a father, she found herself put out onto the streets by her father who “never brought her up at all” (Shaw 2) as soon as she was “old enough to earn her own living” (Shaw 2). It is the desire to obtain an education, or at least the appearance of one that takes Eliza to Dr. Henry Higgins house. Just as much then as it is now, an education is the first step to success in life.


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