The Epistle Dedicatory to Arthur Bingham Walkley

I first read George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, A Comedy and a Philosophy, starting sometime in 2010, and was not finished with the play until sometime (quite late) in 2011. I’m a slow reader, it’s true, but the time I took was more a reflection of the challenge presented by the piece’s opener, that being, the Epistle Dedicatory to Arthur Bingham Walkley. It was the first such letter I’ve ever come across, and probably the most instructive piece of literature –if a letter can really achieve such a thing– I’ve ever read.

Never has a text provided such a vocabulary lesson (inchoate? purlieu? saveloy?) cum reading list (Piers Plowman? Pendennis? Bleak House?). Never has a text slapped me with so many What?!s and Who?!s, or given me so many occasions to realize, after dissolving into a fit of frustration with page-long sentences peppered with references of a cultural club of which I clearly was not a member, how incredibly well a point had been made, or an idea had been phrased.

Still, I suspect I’ve done a sort of intellectual weeding in the garden of this text, pulling out the tougher bits, without having taken a seat to really admire the flowers, so there’ll be another reading in my future. Or possibly five.

Seeing as Trilema is holding a festival of readings from the letter, I’ve recorded a short clip. Luckily I was able to find a paragraph that didn’t contain any French or Latin, thus saving myself the embarrassment of trying to pronounce either.

Listen if you like.

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