Books: Over the Transom

BERNARD SHAW: COLLECTED LETTERS (1898-1910)

Edited by DAN H. LAURENCE 1,017 pages. Dodd, Mead. $25.

Bernard Shaw wrote letters as an art form of onslaught, judging his success by the cries of the wounded. Reading a Shaw letter is a piece of luck, like hearing a superb harangue over a transom. One is infinitely grateful to pass within eavesdropping range. One is equally grateful not to be in that room, backed by scolding tongue and wagging finger into a far corner.

Between 1898 and 1910, Shaw, with all the exuberance of a honking Stanley Steamer,...

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