Monday, November 26, 2012

Pygmalion: Beginning

On Saturday I started reading Pygmalion (I'm a little behind on the blog entries) by George Bernard Shaw.  Before I start giving you delicious quotes and vocabulary words from this book, I thought I'd give you a little background.
Pygmalion is a play published in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw.  It's a short little thing, only around a hundred pages.  Most of you are probably more familiar with the Broadway musical and subsequent film version, both called My Fair Lady.  If you're not, the story goes something like this:
Henry Higgins is a diction coach and professor of phonetics in London.  After meeting a young flower girl on the streets named Eliza Doolittle, who has a cockney accent that he finds horrifying, he makes a bet with his friend Colonel Pickering that with six months of lessons, mostly speech lessons, he can pass her off as a duchess at a ball.
The title comes from the Greek myth of a sculptor named Pygmalion who falls in love with a statue he creates.  He entreats the goddess Venus to turn her into a living woman, a wish she grants, and then he marries her.  This, of course, is a reference to Henry Higgins "creating" Eliza.
This story is significant for a number of reasons.  First of all, from a pop culture perspective, it is entertaining and gave rise to a wonderful play and movie.  Secondly, it is without a doubt a social commentary on the role of women in society, an aspect which was somewhat lost in the adaptations, I feel.  You'll notice, if you're a history buff like me, that this piece was published right at the height of the women's suffrage movement in England. Thirdly, the play, although it is originally set in London and contains the London-specific idea of a cockney girl who learns to speak properly, has had remarkable success being adapted in a variety of languages and countries which proves that class structure and language as a function of that is a very culturally universal phenomenon and one that people can relate to all over the world.
I expect this will only take me a couple of days to read, as it is so short, but I'll try to fit in a couple more blog entries about it!

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