The Love Letters Project #14: George Bernard Shaw and Ellen Terry

I love you.

Who better to write the world’s most passionate love letters than the world’s finest writers? In Irish journalist, political activist and Nobel Prize winning dramatist George Bernard Shaw, we find a man so enamored with love letters that  he conducted an entire affair by them…

The midnight train…gets to Dorking at 1 (a.m.) 14th-15th June 1897…stopping just now, but will joggle like mad presently.

Do you read these jogged scrawls, I wonder. I think of your poor eyes, and resolve to tear what I have written up: then I look out at the ghostly country and the beautiful night, and I cannot bring myself to read a miserable book…Yes, as you guess, Ellen, I am having a bad attack of you just at present. I am restless; and a man’s restlessness always means a woman; and my restlessness means Ellen. And your conduct is often shocking. Today I was wandering somewhere…when I glanced at a shop window; and there you were – oh disgraceful and abandoned – in your third Act Sans Gene dress – a mere waistband – laughing wickedly, and saying maliciously: “Look have restless one, at your pillow, at what you are really thinking about.” How can you look Window and Grove’s camera in the face with such thoughts in your head and almost nothing on…

Oh fie, fie, let me get away from this stuff, which you have been listening to all your life, & despise – though indeed, dearest Ellen, these silly longings stir up great waves of tenderness in which there is no guile.

I shall find a letter from you when I get back to Lotus, shall I not? Reigate we are at now; and it’s a quarter to one. In ten minutes, Dorking station; in seventeen minutes thereafter, Lotus, and a letter. Only a letter, perhaps not even that. O Ellen, what will you say when the Recording Angel asks you why one of your sins have my name to them?

When George Bernard Shaw first met Ellen Terry in 1892, she was an internationally renowned actress and he was a relatively unknown journalist. They corresponded fitfully for 3 years, by which time Shaw had made a name for himself, and then embarked on (in Shaw’s words) “a paper courtship…perhaps the pleasantest and most enduring of all courtships.” Their love of their shared craft bound them with a strange, coy intimacy – they would only meet when their rate of correspondence slowed and a real romance became out of the question.

And Terry’s assessment of Shaw in person?

“He was quite unlike what I had imagined from his letters.”

Further Reading: Ellen Terry & George Bernard Shaw: A Correspondence (and thoughts on).

Images: TCNJ and Wikimedia Commons.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.