List Of Contents | Contents of Man and Superman, by Bernard Shaw
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TANNER. I knew it was a long time ago.

RAMSDEN. I am as advanced as ever I was. I defy you to prove that
I have ever hauled down the flag. I am more advanced than ever I
was. I grow more advanced every day.

TANNER. More advanced in years, Polonius.

RAMSDEN. Polonius! So you are Hamlet, I suppose.

TANNER. No: I am only the most impudent person you've ever met.
That's your notion of a thoroughly bad character. When you want
to give me a piece of your mind, you ask yourself, as a just and
upright man, what is the worst you can fairly say of me. Thief,
liar, forger, adulterer, perjurer, glutton, drunkard? Not one of
these names fit me. You have to fall back on my deficiency in
shame. Well, I admit it. I even congratulate myself; for if I
were ashamed of my real self, I should cut as stupid a figure as
any of the rest of you. Cultivate a little impudence, Ramsden;
and you will become quite a remarkable man.

RAMSDEN. I have no--

TANNER. You have no desire for that sort of notoriety. Bless you,
I knew that answer would come as well as I know that a box of
matches will come out of an automatic machine when I put a penny
in the slot: you would be ashamed to say anything else.

The crushing retort for which Ramsden has been visibly collecting
his forces is lost for ever; for at this point Octavius returns
with Miss Ann Whitefield and her mother; and Ramsden springs up
and hurries to the door to receive them. Whether Ann is
good-looking or not depends upon your taste; also and perhaps
chiefly on your age and sex. To Octavius she is an enchantingly
beautiful woman, in whose presence the world becomes
transfigured, and the puny limits of individual consciousness are
suddenly made infinite by a mystic memory of the whole life of
the race to its beginnings in the east, or even back to the
paradise from which it fell. She is to him the reality of
romance, the leaner good sense of nonsense, the unveiling of his
eyes, the freeing of his soul, the abolition of time, place and
circumstance, the etherealization of his blood into rapturous
rivers of the very water of life itself, the revelation of all
the mysteries and the sanctification of all the dogmas. To her
mother she is, to put it as moderately as possible, nothing
whatever of the kind. Not that Octavius's admiration is in any
way ridiculous or discreditable. Ann is a well formed creature,
as far as that goes; and she is perfectly ladylike, graceful, and
comely, with ensnaring eyes and hair. Besides, instead of making
herself an eyesore, like her mother, she has devised a mourning
costume of black and violet silk which does honor to her late
father and reveals the family tradition of brave unconventionality
by which Ramsden sets such store.

But all this is beside the point as an explanation of Ann's
charm. Turn up her nose, give a cast to her eye, replace her
black and violet confection by the apron and feathers of a flower
girl, strike all the aitches out of her speech, and Ann would
still make men dream. Vitality is as common as humanity; but,
like humanity, it sometimes rises to genius; and Ann is one of
the vital geniuses. Not at all, if you please, an oversexed
person: that is a vital defect, not a true excess. She is a
perfectly respectable, perfectly self-controlled woman, and looks
it; though her pose is fashionably frank and impulsive. She
inspires confidence as a person who will do nothing she does not
mean to do; also some fear, perhaps, as a woman who will probably
do everything she means to do without taking more account of
other people than may be necessary and what she calls right. In
short, what the weaker of her own sex sometimes call a cat.

Nothing can be more decorous than her entry and her reception by
Ramsden, whom she kisses. The late Mr Whitefield  would be
gratified almost to impatience by the long faces of the men
(except Tanner, who is fidgety), the silent handgrasps, the
sympathetic placing of chairs, the sniffing of the widow, and the
liquid eye of the daughter, whose heart, apparently, will not let
her control her tongue to speech. Ramsden and Octavius take the
two chairs from the wall, and place them for the two ladies; but
Ann comes to Tanner and takes his chair, which he offers with a
brusque gesture, subsequently relieving his irritation by sitting
down on the corner of the writing table with studied indecorum.
Octavius gives Mrs Whitefield a chair next Ann, and himself takes
the vacant one which Ramsden has placed under the nose of the
effigy of Mr Herbert Spencer.

Mrs Whitefield, by the way, is a little woman, whose faded flaxen
hair looks like straw on an egg. She has an expression of
muddled shrewdness, a squeak of protest in her voice, and an odd
air of continually elbowing away some larger person who is
crushing her into a corner. One guesses her as one of those women
who are conscious of being treated as silly and negligible, and
who, without having strength enough to assert themselves
effectually, at any rate never submit to their fate. There is a
touch of chivalry in Octavius's scrupulous attention to her,
even whilst his whole soul is absorbed by Ann.

Ramsden goes solemnly back to his magisterial seat at the writing
table, ignoring Tanner, and opens the proceedings.

RAMSDEN. I am sorry, Annie, to force business on you at a sad
time like the present. But your poor dear father's will has
raised a very serious question. You have read it, I believe?

[Ann assents with a nod and a catch of her breath, too much
affected to speak].

I must say I am surprised to find Mr Tanner named as joint
guardian and trustee with myself of you and Rhoda. [A pause. They
all look portentous; but they have nothing to say. Ramsden, a
little ruffled by the lack of any response, continues] I don't
know that I can consent to act under such conditions. Mr Tanner
has, I understand, some objection also; but I do not profess to
understand its nature: he will no doubt speak for himself. But we
are agreed that we can decide nothing until we know your views. I
am afraid I shall have to ask you to choose between my sole
guardianship and that of Mr Tanner; for I fear it is impossible
for us to undertake a joint arrangement.

ANN. [in a low musical voice] Mamma--

MRS WHITEFIELD. [hastily] Now, Ann, I do beg you not to put it on
me. I have no opinion on the subject; and if I had, it would
probably not be attended to. I am quite with whatever you three
think best.

Tanner turns his head and looks fixedly at Ramsden, who angrily
refuses to receive this mute communication.

ANN. [resuming in the same gentle voice, ignoring her mother's
bad taste] Mamma knows that she is not strong enough to bear the
whole responsibility for me and Rhoda without some help and
advice. Rhoda must have a guardian; and though I am older, I do
not think any young unmarried woman should be left quite to her
own guidance. I hope you agree with me, Granny?

TANNER. [starting] Granny! Do you intend to call your guardians

ANN. Don't be foolish, Jack. Mr Ramsden has always been Grandpapa
Roebuck to me: I am Granny's Annie; and he is Annie's Granny. I
christened him so when I first learned to speak.

RAMSDEN. [sarcastically] I hope you are satisfied, Mr Tanner. Go
on, Annie: I quite agree with you.

ANN. Well, if I am to have a guardian, CAN I set aside anybody
whom my dear father appointed for me?

RAMSDEN. [biting his lip] You approve of your father's choice,

ANN. It is not for me to approve or disapprove. I accept it. My
father loved me and knew best what was good for me.

RAMSDEN. Of course I understand your feeling, Annie. It is what I
should have expected of you; and it does you credit. But it does
not settle the question so completely as you think. Let me put a
case to you. Suppose you were to discover that I had been guilty
of some disgraceful action--that I was not the man your poor dear
father took me for. Would you still consider it right that I
should be Rhoda's guardian?

ANN. I can't imagine you doing anything disgraceful, Granny.

TANNER. [to Ramsden] You haven't done anything of the sort, have

RAMSDEN. [indignantly] No sir.

MRS. WHITEFIELD. [placidly] Well, then, why suppose it?

ANN. You see, Granny, Mamma would not like me to suppose it.

RAMSDEN. [much perplexed] You are both so full of natural and
affectionate feeling in these family matters that it is very hard
to put the situation fairly before you.

TANNER. Besides, my friend, you are not putting the situation
fairly before them.

RAMSDEN. [sulkily] Put it yourself, then.

TANNER. I will. Ann: Ramsden thinks I am not fit be your
guardian; and I quite agree with him. He considers that if your
father had read my book, he wouldn't have appointed me. That book
is the disgraceful action he has been talking about. He thinks
it's your duty for Rhoda's sake to ask him to act alone and to
make me withdraw. Say the word and I will.

ANN. But I haven't read your book, Jack.

TANNER. [diving at the waste-paper basket and fishing the book
out for her] Then read it at once and decide.

RAMSDEN. If I am to be your guardian, I positively forbid you to
read that book, Annie. [He smites the table with his fist and

ANN. Of course, if you don't wish it. [She puts the book on the

TANNER. If one guardian is to forbid you to read the other
guardian's book, how are we to settle it? Suppose I order you to
read it! What about your duty to me?

ANN. [gently] I am sure you would never purposely force me into a
painful dilemma, Jack.

RAMSDEN. [irritably] Yes, yes, Annie: this is all very well, and,
as I said, quite natural and becoming. But you must make a choice
one way or the other. We are as much in a dilemma as you.

ANN. I feel that I am too young, too inexperienced, to decide. My
father's wishes are sacred to me.

MRS WHITEFIELD. If you two men won't carry them out I must say it
is rather hard that you should put the responsibility on Ann. It
seems to me that people are always putting things on other people
in this world.

RAMSDEN.  I am sorry you take it that way.

ANN. [touchingly] Do you refuse to accept me as your ward,

RAMSDEN. No: I never said that. I greatly object to act with Mr
Tanner: that's all.

MRS. WHITEFIELD. Why? What's the matter with poor Jack?

TANNER. My views are too advanced for him.

RAMSDEN. [indignantly] They are not. I deny it.

ANN. Of course not. What nonsense! Nobody is more advanced than
Granny. I am sure it is Jack himself who has made all the
difficulty. Come, Jack! Be kind to me in my sorrow. You don't
refuse to accept me as your ward, do you?

TANNER. [gloomily] No. I let myself in for it; so I suppose I
must face it. [He turns away to the bookcase, and stands there,
moodily studying the titles of the volumes].

ANN. [rising and expanding with subdued but gushing delight] Then
we are all agreed; and my dear father's will is to be carried
out. You don't know what a joy that is to me and to my mother!
[She goes to Ramsden and presses both his hands, saying] And I
shall have my dear Granny to help and advise me. [She casts a
glance at Tanner over her shoulder]. And Jack the Giant Killer.
[She goes past her mother to Octavius]. And Jack's inseparable
friend Ricky-ticky-tavy [he blushes and looks inexpressibly

MRS WHITEFIELD. [rising and shaking her widow's weeds straight]
Now that you are Ann's guardian, Mr Ramsden, I wish you would
speak to her about her habit of giving people nicknames. They
can't be expected to like it. [She moves towards the door].

ANN. How can you say such a thing, Mamma! [Glowing with
affectionate remorse] Oh, I wonder can you be right! Have I been
inconsiderate? [She turns to Octavius, who is sitting astride
his chair with his elbows on the back of it. Putting her hand on
his forehead the turns his face up suddenly]. Do you want to be
treated like a grown up man? Must I call you Mr Robinson in

OCTAVIUS. [earnestly] Oh please call me Ricky-ticky--tavy, "Mr
Robinson" would hurt me cruelly. She laughs and pats his cheek
with her finger; then comes back to Ramsden]. You know I'm
beginning to think that Granny is rather a piece of impertinence.
But I never dreamt of its hurting you.

RAMSDEN. [breezily, as he pats her affectionately on the back] My
dear Annie, nonsense. I insist on Granny. I won't answer to any
other name than Annie's Granny.

ANN. [gratefully] You all spoil me, except Jack.

TANNER. [over his shoulder, from the bookcase] I think you ought
to call me Mr Tanner.

ANN. [gently] No you don't, Jack. That's like the things you say
on purpose to shock people: those who know you pay no attention
to them. But, if you like, I'll call you after your famous
ancestor Don Juan.

RAMSDEN. Don Juan!

ANN. [innocently] Oh, is there any harm in it? I didn't know.
Then I certainly won't call you that. May I call you Jack until
I can think of something else?

TANKER. Oh, for Heaven's sake don't try to invent anything worse.
I capitulate. I consent to Jack. I embrace Jack. Here endeth my
first and last attempt to assert my authority.

ANN. You see, Mamma, they all really like to have pet names.

MRS WHITEFIELD. Well, I think you might at least drop them until
we are out of mourning.

ANN. [reproachfully, stricken to the soul] Oh, how could you
remind me, mother? [She hastily leaves the room to conceal her

MRS WHITEFIELD. Of course. My fault as usual! [She follows Ann].

TANNER. [coming from the bockcase] Ramsden: we're beaten--
smashed--nonentitized, like her mother.

RAMSDEN. Stuff, Sir. [He follows Mrs Whitefield out of the room].

TANNER. [left alone with Octavius, stares whimsically at him]
Tavy: do you want to count for something in the world?

OCTAVIUS. I want to count for something as a poet: I want to
write a great play.

TANNER. With Ann as the heroine?

OCTAVIUS. Yes: I confess it.

TANNER. Take care, Tavy. The play with Ann as the heroine is all
right; but if you're not very careful, by Heaven she'll marry

OCTAVIUS. [sighing] No such luck, Jack!

TANNER. Why, man, your head is in the lioness's mouth: you are
half swallowed already--in three bites--Bite One, Ricky; Bite
Two, Ticky; Bite Three, Tavy; and down you go.

OCTAVIUS. She is the same to everybody, Jack: you know her ways.

TANNER. Yes: she breaks everybody's back with the stroke of her
paw; but the question is, which of us will she eat? My own
opinion is that she means to eat you.

OCTAVIUS. [rising, pettishly] It's horrible to talk like that
about her when she is upstairs crying for her father. But I do so
want her to eat me that I can bear your brutalities because they
give me hope.

TANNER. Tavy; that's the devilish side of a woman's fascination:
she makes you will your own destruction.

OCTAVIUS. But it's not destruction: it's fulfilment.

TANNER. Yes, of HER purpose; and that purpose is neither her
happiness nor yours, but Nature's. Vitality in a woman is a blind
fury of creation. She sacrifices herself to it: do you think she
will hesitate to sacrifice you?

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