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Shaw, Subjective Inequality, and the Social Meanings of Language in Pygmalion

Author(s): Lynda Mugglestone


Source: The Review of English Studies, New Series, Vol. 44, No. 175 (Aug., 1993), pp. 373-385
Published by: Oxford University Press
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AND THE
INEQUALITY,
SHAW, SUBJECTIVE
SOCIAL MEANINGS OF LANGUAGE
IN PYGMALION
By LYNDA MUGGLESTONE
or
is rarelycapableof raisingherself,
The Londonwork-girl
beingraised,to a placein lifeabovethattowhichshewasborn;
shecannotlearnhowtostandandsitandmovelikea womanbred
to refinement,
any morethanshe can fashionher tongueto
graceful
speech.'
WITH thesewordsGeorgeGissingstressedhis convictionthatsocial
whetherpassiveor active ('raisingor being raised'),
transformation,
was still,fora memberoftheLondonunderclassin thelatenineteenth
century,a virtualimpossibility;twenty-oneyears later, however,
George Bernard Shaw was resolutelyto prove him wrong in the
who, transpersonof Eliza Doolittle,the Lisson Grove flower-girl
plantedto the social environsof WimpoleStreet,is turnedinto an
'artificialduchess'2by means of the science of phonetics.Gissing's
emphasison nature,and the sense of innateinequalitywhich this
implies, is thus displaced by Shaw's belief in nurture,and the
conditioningeffectsof social circumstance;Eliza indeed proves
herselfmorethancapable of 'being raised'and of being educatedin
of'a womanbredto refinement',
thesocialand linguisticmannerisms
perhapsmostnotablyin thewayin whichshe can, and does, 'fashion
hertongueto gracefulspeech'.
The Pygmalionmythin Shaw's hands, predictablyendowedwith
social meaning,becomes thereforenot only a paradigmof social
mobility,but also a paean to inherentequality,with its thesis,as
NicholasGrenehas pointedout, that'a ladyis onlya flower-girl
plus
six monthsphonetictraining,a gentlemanonly a dustmanwith
money'.3Eliza's educationin the behaviouralnormsof the English
upper classes, and in the markers,and particularlythe linguistic
markers,of superiorsocial status,is as a resultused as a means of
exploringnotonlythepotentialforindividualadvancementin an 'age
1 G.
Gissing,New GrubStreet(London, 1891), 154.
2 G. B. Shaw, Androclesand theLion, Overruled,Pygmalion(London, 1916), Pygmalion,
Iv. 162 (unlessotherwisespecified,thiseditionofPygmalionwillbe used throughout).
3 N. Grene,BernardShaw: A CriticalView(London, 1984), 108.
Press1993
RES New Series,Vol. XLIV, No. 175(1993)
University
C Oxford

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MUGGLESTONE

374

but also, and moreimportantly,


theveryfoundations
ofupstarts',4
of
social equalityand inequality,and the values and value judgements,
the perceptionsof worthand status,whichcome in turnto surround
them.
The natureofsocialequality,as wellas itsimportance,
areofcourse
prevailingShavian themes,attributablein a numberof ways to his
ofsocialclass ('No Shaw could
childhoodeducationin thesensibilities
forma social acquaintancewith a shopkeepernor with a Roman
the Shaw parentsimpressedthatfacton their
Catholic;and naturally
childrenand therebymadearrantsnobsofthem').5The legacyofsuch
social consciousnesswas, however,soon overlaidby the moreoverofa (Fabian) socialconscience;alreadyin 1873,
ridingpreoccupations
Shaw's loathingof the estateagent'sofficewherehe workedderives
fromthe way in whichit was 'saturatedwithclass feeling',6and his
conversionto socialismin the early 1880s was onlyto give a firmer
forsuch alreadyingrainedperceptions.The
intellectualframework
social consciousnessofhis earlyyearsand thesocial conscienceofhis
laterones unite, however,in the writingof Pygmalion,and in his
treatmentof social illusionand social realityShaw producesa text
whichcombinesthe seeminglydivergentspheresof socialistparable
and socialcomedyofmanners.
Its success as both socialistparable and social comedydepends
of Shaw's own social
notonlyupon someunderstanding
nevertheless
but also upon some consideration
and egalitarianpreoccupations,
of
sociothe wider social, linguistic,and perhaps more particularly,
linguistic,contextsupon which it draws. The centuryinto which
Shaw was born,forexample,was witnessto the riseof entirelynew
conceptionsof social identity,the class distinctionswith which
Pygmaliondeals comingintobeingonlyalongitscourse;theworking
locatedin Act I hencereceivelexicoclasses in whichEliza is firmly
in
graphicalrecognition OED onlyin 1816,theupperclassesto which
different
she aspiresappearonlyfrom1826. Reflecting
fundamentally
and
social
the
hierarchies, nuancesof
perceptionsof social labelling
in
to
create
themajorsocialpreoccufirst
recorded
were
class,
1772,7
Class
of
the
nineteenth
consciousness,firstrecorded
century.
pations
in 1887, is, in effect,the issue whichwas to dominatePygmalion,
mirroredmost obviouslyin the linguisticsignals of social identity
whichprovidethekeyto Eliza's transformation.
Pygmalion,I. 114.

5 G. B. Shaw, SixteenSelfSketches(London, 1949), 91.

6 Cited in M.
Holroyd,BernardShaw, i, The SearchforLove 1856-1898 (London, 1988),

53.
7 OED dates the use of the wordclass in its modernsense ('a divisionor orderof society
accordingto status;a rankor gradeof society')to 1772, citingHanway'sObservationson the
Causes ofDissolutenesswhichreignsamongthelowerclasses ofthepeoplein illustration.

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PYGMALION

375

'It is impossiblefor an Englishmanto open his mouthwithout


makingsome otherEnglishmanhate or despisehim', statesShaw in
his Preface,8stressing
thesocialmeaningssubsumedwithinlanguage,
and especiallyspokenlanguage.In thiscontext,however,it becomes
to recognizethatthestratified
social meanings
additionallyimportant
whichaccentnowencompasses,and withwhichPygmaliondeals, are,
themselveslargelyproducts
likeclass and itsattendantramifications,
ofthenineteenth
centuryalone.
These recentchangesin social structurein factseem to bringthe
valuessurrounding
accentin theirwake,
newand sociallyconnotative
the escalationin its social significance
being more than apparentin
comment;whereasforJosephPriestleyin 1762 procontemporary
nunciationhad been merelyan 'ornament'of correctspeech,9for
ofsocialidentity
WilliamSavage writingin 1833itsroleas determiner
is clearlywell established.Pronunciationis 'the talismanthat will
enforceadmirationor beget contempt;thatwill produce esteemor
thatwillbar thedooror makeportalsflyopen'.10
precludefriendship;
notonlyofsocial statusbut also
This roleofaccentas a determiner
of social acceptability
is thusin turnadoptedas themajorvehiclefor
Shaw's social critiquein Pygmalion.Presentedin termsof Eliza's
in the hands of the phonetician,Henry Higgins,it
metamorphosis
notonlyto theway in whichdoorsmaybe
reflectsShaw's sensitivity
to
barredby detailsof language,but also, and morefundamentally,
thewayin whichdivisionsofsocial inequalityhad come in turnto be
mirroredby determinantsof linguisticinequality,by systemsof
markerssuperficialin themselvesbut endowed with great and
divisivesocialsignificance.
potentially
Higgins'sbasis in the real phonetician,Henry Sweet, Reader in
Phoneticsat Oxfordfrom1901,but knownpersonallyby Shaw from
the late 1870s, can in consequence be seen to take on additional
As Shaw and Sweetwereaware,forexample,phonetics,
significance.
farmorethanthe
thoughstilla 'new science',was in factpotentially
and
voice
and
articulation
merestudyof
production, it was precisely
similar
its potentialforplayinga social role whichwas, in strikingly
in
a
can
a
number
of
As
result
Sweet
to
interest
them
both.
ways
ways,
be seen to provide not only the model for Higgins, but also the
impetusforthe entireplay. As he wrotein his Handbook in 1877,
'When a firmcontrol of pronunciationhas thus been acquired,
8 Pygmalion,Preface,99.
9 J. Priestley,A Courseof Lectureson the TheoryofLanguage and UniversalGrammar
1762), 250.
(Warrington,
10 W. H. Savage, The Vulgarisms
and Improprieties
oftheEnglishLanguage (London, 1833),
pp. iv-v.

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376

MUGGLESTONE

and vulgarismswill at last be eliminatedand some of


provincialisms
the most importantbarriersbetweenthe different
classes of society
will thusbe abolished.'11Pygmalioncan, in effect,be seen as Shaw's
response;as Higginshimselfphrasesit in the play--thereby
closely
no longermerelyan
echoingSweetin hisperceptions-pronunciation,
ornament,is instead'the deepestgulfthatseparatesclass fromclass
and soul fromsoul'.12
The 'deep gulf'separatingEliza and Higginsin thebeginningofthe
play is thusinitiallyestablishedin linguisticterms,Eliza's phonemic
and grammaticaldivergencefromthe norms of standardEnglish
workingas a concise symbolof her social unacceptability,
just as
Colonel Pickering'ssocial and linguisticlocation in 'Cheltenham,
Harrow, Cambridgeand India'13 establishesthe converse. Eliza's
socialidentity,
and attendantsocialostracism,is hencedetermined
by
thelinguisticshibbolethsof/h/droppingand doublenegation,by her
realizationsofpaying as pyin, and offlowersas flahrz, and by the
connotative
valueswhichhad cometo attendsuchusages.Thoughshe
is acknowledgedas 'a humanbeingwitha soul and the divinegiftof
articulatespeech',14the separationof 'soul fromsoul' by mattersof
is nowhereclearerthanin Higgins'seloquentrangeof
pronunciation
forEliza's socialidentity;she is 'a squashedcabbageleaf',15
synonyms
'a draggle-tailedguttersnipe','a baggage', 'deliciously low' and
'horriblydirty'.16Rendered scarcelymore than animate by such
epithets,theiruse neverthelessserves to emphasizethat fusionof
social and linguisticjudgementwhichhad cometo prevailby theend
to extendintoour
ofthenineteenth
centuryand whichwas, moreover,
own.
As David Crystal noted in 1987, 'We . . only have to speak, to
provide . . . innumerable clues about our personal historyand social

but Shaw stressesin Pygmalionthatsuch clues, in an era


identity',17
undulysensitizedto the social importof language,may indicatenot
onlyour past, and our present,but may also determineour future:
Eliza's 'kerbstoneEnglish',whilstgraphicallydescribingher present
social location,is also 'the Englishthatwill keep herin the gutterto
theend ofherdays','8and Eliza herselfrecognizesthateventheminor
is impededby percepto employment
withina flower-shop
transition
tions of her linguisticinfelicities-shestates,therebycompounding
" H. Sweet,A HandbookofPhonetics(Oxford,1877), 196.

13 Ibid. I. 112.
15

27.

12

Pygmalion, III. 157.


14 Ibid. I. 114.

This additionalepithetappearsin thefilmversionofPygmalion(London: Penguin,1941),

16 Pygmalion, II. 123, 120, 123.

17 D. Crystal,The Cambridge
EncyclopaediaofLanguage (London, 1987), 17.
18 Pygmalion, I. 115.

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PYGMALION

377

suchinfelicities
by theuse ofa flatadverb,'theywonttakeme unlessI
can talkmoregenteel'.19
as Shaw presentsit, may
Language, and especiallypronunciation,
therefore
combineto worknot onlyas a social determiner,
but also,
as a social determinant,
and moredangerously,
the
preventing 'equal
forall' whichShaw gave as his definition
of
rightsand opportunities
socialismin 1890.20Fabianism and phoneticsthus achieve parallel
aims in Pygmalion,the solutionto such linguistic,and attendant
social, determinism
beingshownto restin the possibilitiesof linguisas workedby Higginsupon Eliza
tic,and hencesocial,transformation
by means of her educationin the nuances of phonemicpropriety.
Shaw's point here, however,is less a recommendation
of remedial
phoneticsforthe problemsof a class-basedsocietythan a consideration of the natureof equalityin itself,and of the superficialissues
whichmayobscuresuch knowledge.
Equality,and the natureof social identity,in factcome to provide
dominantmotifswithinEliza's conversation;'My characteris the
same to me as any lady's',21she stressesto Higginsin Act I, and,
in Act II, she continuesto assert
though'woundedand whimpering'
the Fabian truththatmoneyalone leads to rank:'I wontbe called a
to paylikeanylady';22justas, in thetumult
baggagewhenIve offered
and confusionof the openingscene, she states,albeit 'with feeble
defiance','Ive a rightto be here if I like, same as you'.23 Such
commentsare used to pointthe difference
betweenthe undeniable
facts of innate equality, and the social, includingthe linguistic,
fallacieswhichnevertheless
mayinhibititsrecognition.
Such discrepanciesare underlinedfurther
by Shaw himselfin his
stagedirections;though'comparedto theladies,sheis verydirty',this
firstdescriptionof Eliza makesthesalientpointthatshe is, however,
'as clean as she can affordto be'.24Cleanliness,likeaccent,becomes
an accidentof birthand
yetanothertrappingof social circumstance,
class. Like accent also, cleanliness,or ratherits converse,initially
constitutesa markerof Eliza's social ostracism,and is likewiseto be
The ease
subject to transitionduringEliza's social transformation.
withwhichit is removed,however,servesto stresstheway in which
markersof class may have theirsignificance
overstatedas determiofindividualidentity;thoughEliza was,
nants,as wellas determiners,
for example, deemed entirelyunworthyof discourse by Clara
19 Ibid.
II. 121.

20

182.
21

G. B. Shaw, WhatSocialismIs (Fabian Tract No. 4, 1890). Cited in Holroyd,Shaw, i.

Pygmalion, I. 113.
24 Ibid.
I. 107.

22 Ibid.
II. 120.

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23 Ibid. 114.
I.

378

MUGGLESTONE

in Act I, her acquisitionof the rightaccent,plus the


Eynsford-Hill
eliminationof the dirt,makesher insteadan objectof emulationby
ofthefactthatthesubstanceofherconversation,
Act III, irrespective
in termsof true social propriety,still lacks the conventionsappropriateforpoliteconversation.25
This disjunctionin termsof social meaningbetweensuperficial
is nowheremade clearerthan in
markersand substantivedifference
thescenesdetailingMrs Higgins's'At Home', whereit is used to produce some of Shaw's richestcomedy,as well as to exerciseto thefull
his talentsas Fabian social critic.The sceneunites(withtheaddition
of Mrs Higginsherself)the social groupingof the beginningof the
Pickering,Higgins,and Eliza. Eliza, howplay: the Eynsford-Hills,
ever,bereftof herbasketof flowers,and equipped witha new set of
social markers,producesa completelydifferent
impression;rather
instead
thanfallingoverheras he did in Act I, FreddyEynsford-Hill
fallsin love withher, and his sisterClara is likewisefascinated,describedas 'devouringher [Eliza] withhereyes'.26
Nevertheless,it is importantto rememberthatEliza at thisstage
the same, distinctonly in superficial
still remainsfundamentally
of Act II. In modern
detailsfrom'the draggle-tailed
guttersnipe'27
it
is
as
Shaw
illustrates,
preciselythesesuperficial
society,however,
endowed
with
most
and upon
which
tend
to
be
details
significance,
which acceptabilityand its criteriatend to depend; Eliza, upon
enteringthe room, 'produces an impressionof such remarkable
distinctionand beauty. . . thattheyall rise, quite fluttered'.Such
is in turnreinforced
distinction
by bothher'studiedgrace'and 'great
is
all Eliza's 'pedanticcorrectnessof
above
of
but
it
tone'
beauty
and
social
the
meaningswithwhichit is imbued,that
pronunciation',
in thispassage.28
wereto occupyShaw primarily
Shaw plays heavily on the role of accent as the major social
determinerof identity and acceptability,producing a comic
betweenwhatshe says,and howshe
in Eliza's conversation
dichotomy
ofconversational
indeed
in
terms
Her
it.
propriety
manyfauxpas
says
of
the
social
seemas a resultto be transcendedentirely
significance
by
heradoptiveRP and thesocialas wellas phonemicprestigesurrounding it. 'Whatbecomeof her new strawhat thatshouldhave come to
me? Somebodypinchedit; and whatI sayis, themas pinchedit done
25 See e.g. Eliza's discussionof the
drinkinghabitsof herfather(III. 152): 'It neverdid him
no harmwhatI could see. But thenhe did notkeepitup regular.On theburst,as youmightsay
... Whenhe was out ofwork,mymotherused to givehimfourpenceand tellhimto go out and
There's lotsof womenhas to
not come back untilhe'd drunkhimselfcheerfuland loving-like.
maketheirhusbandsdrunkto makethemfitto livewith.'
26 Ibid. III. 150.
28 Ibid. III. 150.
27 Ibid. II. 123.

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PYGMALION

379

her in', expounds Eliza upon the untimelydemise of her aunt,29


therebyunitingtheidiomand expressionofhersocialoriginswiththe
new social status suggestedby her enunciation.The connotative
valuesofclass containedwithinthelatterclearlydominatein termsof
social meaning,displacingthe significanceof non-standardtense
relations(and even the major solecismof swearing)and rendering
Eliza no longera representative
of'kerbstoneEnglish'but insteadthe
of
and
an exemplarof the'new smalltalk'
epitome linguisticfashion,
forthe impressionableClara ('It's so quaint,and givessuch a smart
emphasisto thingsthatare not in themselvesverywitty.I findthe
newsmalltalkdelightful
and quite innocent').30
as
he
Higgins,
promised,has in effectcreateda new social identity
forEliza, bridgingthe 'gulfthatseparatesclass fromclass and soul
fromsoul' by an exercisein phonetics,and expenditureon herdress.
The presentation
of the class divide in such termsis thus made to
reflectthemanyparadoxesand pretenceswhichsurrounded,and still
surround,questionsof social worthand social acceptability.In this
contextit is salient,as well as salutary,to rememberthatHiggins's
firstreactionsto Eliza's 'Lisson Grove lingo'31deniedher social, and
indeed,individualworthat all: 'A womanwho utterssuchdepressing
and disgusting
soundshas no rightto be anywhere-norightto live.'32
Eliza's innateequalitycan thusonlybe seen,evenby Higginshimself,
once she has gained access to symbolsof social equality,and the
patternis preciselythesameforherfather.As AlfredDoolittlegainsa
fortune,so Eliza gains an accent (thoughlosing another)and with
such trappingsboth become morethancapable of playingthe social
rolesofladyand gentleman.
Equality and inequalityin social termsare therebyprovento be
both extrinsicand subjective;this is clearlyShaw's thesis froma
socialistpointof view. From a linguisticpointof view, his thesisis
perhaps more striking.Long beforethe advent of sociolinguistics,
Shaw seemsto havebeen awarenotonlyofthemarkedco-variation
of
accent and class, but also of the social side-effects
of what R. A.
Hudson has termedthe'subjectiveinequalityoflanguage',or, in other
words,awarethat'linguisticinequalitycan be seen as a cause (along
withmanyotherfactors,of course) of social inequality,as well as a
consequenceof it'.33This fact,of languageas both cause and conseis indeedat the heart
quence of class divisionsand class distinctions,
of Shaw's perceptionsin Pygmalion,Eliza's 'kerbstoneEnglish'being
not only the productof her social deprivation,but also the factor
29

Ibid. III. 151-2.

32 Ibid. I. 114.

33

30 Ibid. III. 153-4.


31 Ibid. II. 120.
R. A. Hudson,Sociolinguistics
(Cambridge,1980), 193.

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380

MUGGLESTONE

whichwill ultimatelyreinforceit, and which,as Higginsis made to


stress,'willkeepherin thegutterto theend ofherdays'.34
Shaw himselfrecursoftenin hiswritingsto thisnotionofaccentas
in his 1906
social impediment,though perhaps most pertinently
commentthat'mostEnglishmenand womenwouldalmostratherdie
thanbe convictedof speakinglike costermongers
and flowergirls'.35
This comment,givingadditionalemphasisto Shaw's perceptionsof
servesmoresignifilinguisticdisadvantageand itssocial correlations,
to
underline
the
social
resonanceof the
however,
particular
cantly,
in
a
then
contemporaryEnglish society, fact which is,
cockney
moreover,used by Shaw to add a furtherdimensionto the social
meaningsalreadyevidentin Eliza's transformation.
A knowledgeoftheunderlying
socialand linguistic
contextsis again
useful; the cockney,throughoutthe nineteenthcentury,is, for
example,notonlyseen as a kindofsocialpariah,but also becomes,in
terms of the prevailingprescriptiveideology,a butt for all the
linguisticsins of the age, the stereotypeof everylinguistic,and
particularlyphonemic, infelicity.The strengthof contemporary
feelingswas indeedsuch thatevenHenrySweetwas drawnto remark
on the way in which 'The Cockneydialectseems veryugly to the
educatedEnglishmanor womanbecausehe-and stillmoreshe-lives
A reporton the
in a perpetualterrorof beingtakenfora Cockney'.36
teachingof Englishin elementaryschools,publishedin 1909, went
still further:'Most dialects have theirown distinctivecharm and
historicalinterest;but Cockneyismseems to have no redeeming
The linguistic
features,and needonlyto be heardto be condemned.'37
was of coursemerelya marker
prejudicemanifestin such statements
formanyin the late
of attendantsocial prejudice,but nevertheless,
nineteenthand early twentiethcenturies,such statementswere
percepadoptedas social facts,employed,as by Gissing,to reinforce
the
tionsof the inherentratherthanimposedinequalitysurrounding
of not only a flower-girl,
but
cockney.38Shaw's transformation
into a lady of such
moreoveran undeniablycockneyflower-girl,
thatshe can be mistakenfora Hungarianprincessthereby
distinction
takes on added social force. Few other thingsin fact could have
his beliefin underlying
demonstrated
equalityso well.
34 Pygmalion,I. 115.
35 G. B. Shaw, 'The Simplified
SpellingProposals',The Times,25 Sept. 1906.
36 H. Sweet,A PrimerofSpokenEnglish(Oxford,1890), p. vi.
37 Cited in J. Franklyn,The Cockney:A Survey of London Life and Language (London,
1953), 223.
38 Gissing'sdescriptionof Mrs Yule's accent in New Grub Street (1891) can be takenas
and her intonationwas not
'Mrs. Yule's speech was seldom ungrammatical,
representative:
baseness,
flagrantly
vulgar,but theaccentofthe London poor,whichbrandsas withhereditary

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PYGMALION

381

In this, as Nicholas Grene recognizes, Shaw 'challenges the


assumption that there is anythingmore to gentilitythan money and
the arbitraryshibboleths of social behaviour. Socially we are what we
sound like, and if we can change our voices we change ourselves',39or
rather,and perhaps rathermore accurately,we can change the way in
which others perceive us, even if we do happen to belong, at least
originally, to that social substratum of the cockney. The socialist
parable of Pygmalion is primarilymade to reside, therefore,in Shaw's
analysis of the inherentsuperficialityof those symbols commonlyused
to determine social acceptability; only Eliza's education in linguistic
manners and behavioural norms, togetherwith the externaltrappings
provided by Pickering,can be said in any real sense to differentiateher
from the 'squashed cabbage leaf' of Act I. No longer 'giving herself
away as soon as she opens her mouth', the implicationsof this factare,
however, extended by Shaw to provide yet another,and perhaps more
profound, kind of social education for the character of Clara in the
play.
Clara, presented throughoutin terms of her undue reliance on the
markers of social status, undergoes, as we have seen, a comic
conversionon the subject of Eliza, recoilingfromher in disgust in Act
I, reveringher by Act III, unaware of course that the Miss Doolittle
of the latter, and the bedraggled flower-sellerof the formerare one
and the same. Forced to contemplate the differencebetween identity
and social identity,Clara thus receives a social education of a rather
differentkind to that already experienced by Eliza-or, as Shaw puts
it in his Epilogue, 'Clara's snobbery went bang':
on beingsuddenlywakenedto enthusiasmby a girlof herown age who ...
producedin hera gushingdesireto takeherfora model, . . . she discovered
thatthisexquisiteapparitionhad graduatedfromthegutterin a fewmonths
time. It shookherso violently,
thatwhenMr H. G. Wells ... placed herat
theangleofviewfromwhichthelifeshewas leadingand thesocietyto which
she clungappearedin itstruerelationto realhumanneedsand worthysocial
structure,he effecteda conversion. .. comparableto the mostsensational
featsof GeneralBooth.40
'Worthy social structure'and 'real human needs' are of course the
substance of Shaw's message. Phonetics becomes the agent of Fabian
ideals in the consummate ease with which it levels class distinctions
and fills in class divides, providing, as a cancelled passage of
stillclungto herwords,rendering
futilesuch propriety
of phraseas she owed to yearsofassociationwitheducatedpeople' (p. 154).
40
39 Grene,A CriticalView,102.
Pygmalion,Epilogue, 199-200.

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382

MUGGLESTONE

of the human
Pygmalionmade clear,the meansfor'the regeneration
sciencein theworld'.41
racethroughthemostdifficult
withthatofEliza, thusstandsas part
Clara'sregeneration,
together
of the mythof re-creationemployedin the play. Alongsidethis,
of
however,mustalso be consideredtheparallelsocialtransformation
ofaccentin
AlfredDoolittle,gainingmoneyratherthanmodifications
his role of naturalphilosopherto the WannafellerMoral Reform
World League. Like Eliza, his originalsocial locationis determined
merelyby the superficialratherthan the innate; his occupationas
dustmanheightensthe dirtwhich had been prominentin the early
of his daughter,but its greaterabundanceneversocial definitions
theless makes it no more difficultto remove. Like Eliza, Alfred
Doolittlewas 'as clean as he could affordto be' and theacquisitionof
?3,000 a year rapidly effectsa transitionwithin such necessary
theirrepercussions
markersofacceptability,
readilyperceptiblein the
parlourmaid'sresponseswhen he presentshimselfat Mrs Higgins's
Chelsea apartment:
a gentleman
wantstoseeyouveryparticular.
THE PARLOR-MAID. Mr Henry:
Hes beensenton from
WimpoleStreet.
I cantseeanyonenow.Whois it?
HIGGINS. Oh, bother!
A Mr Doolittle,sir.
THE PARLOR-MAID.
PICKERING.Doolittle!Do you meanthedustman?
THE PARLOR-MAID.
Dustman! Oh no, sir: a gentleman.42

The parlour-maid'sincredulitywhen Colonel Pickeringsuggests


thatthe 'gentleman'mayin factbe a 'dustman'is all too self-evident.
also is Shaw's pointaboutthenatureofsocialperceptions
Self-evident
of therole
and social class, made morepertinent
by its consideration
of moneywithina capitalistsociety,and the factthatthoughaccent
moneymay at times
may operateas a dominantsocial determiner,
workstillbetter.Class is afterall based primarily
on the divisionsof
socio-economicstatus, and, as Shaw commentsin Sixteen Self
Sketches, it is only 'sufficientequality of income [that] . . . will break

down class segregation'.43As other contemporarycommentators


stressed,however,not only will sufficient
moneybreak down the
barriersof class, it will also break down those of accent; 'the
deliberate,cold-bloodedomissionof an "h" is abhorrentto educated
ears', noted G. Hill in 1902 with referenceto that most obvious
but 'thepossessionofa
shibbolethofsocialand linguisticconvention,
will
nevertheless
'ensure
Alfred
income'
forgiveness'.44
very large
41 This appears on p. 72 of the
Hanley Collectiontypescript,held in the libraryof the
ofTexas. Cited in L. Crompton,Shaw theDramatist(London, 1971), 249 n. 10.
University
42
43 Shaw,SixteenSelfSketches,24.
Pygmalion, V. 170-1.
44 Revd. G. Hill, TheAspirate(London, 1902), 7.

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PYGMALION

383

Doolittle,thoughaddressinghimselfto 'Enry Iggins'45ratherthan


to be given entirelyunquestioning
Henry Higgins,is stilltherefore
a
as
gentleman.
acceptance
As all thisgoes to prove,thevirtuesofgentlemenand ladiesdo not
of social status
necessarilyhave anythingto do withthe ramifications
in termsof
social
whether
their
and social identity,
though
trappings,
feelsthe
Even
Alfred
do.
or
Doolittle,
however,
phonemes property,
the
which
of
social
the
accompany acquisitionof
expectations
pressure
to
worldlywealth, lamenting Higgins: 'Ill have to learn to speak
middleclass languagefromyou, insteadof speakingproperEnglish.
Thats whereyoull come in; and I daresaythatswhat you done it
for.'46
As David Crystalmakesclear,'More thananythingelse, language
showswe "belong",providingthe mostnaturalbadge, or symbol,of
Eliza sheds the languageof her social
public and privateidentity'.47
father
even
her
and
acknowledgessomesenseofwhatis more
origins,
for
'belonging'to his new social location; the public
appropriate
has
of
both
changed.In such changes,however,bothare, as
identity
AlfredDoolittlerealizes,'disclassed',48and this,in effect,poses the
moreseriousproblemsfortheirultimatesocial identity.Bearingthe
social symbolsof the upper classes, theycan no longer'belong' to
those fromwhich they came. The problemsare less for Alfred
Doolittle himself: wielding his dustmanship'like a banner', he
becomes,as Shaw describesin hisEpilogue,'extremely
popularin the
smartestsociety'by means of 'a social talentwhichtriumphedover
everyprejudiceand everydisadvantage'.49
Eliza's case is different;
she gainsnotonlythe social advantagesof
heraccent,but alongwithit, as Mrs Higginswarnsearlyin the play,
'the mannersand habitsthatdisqualifya finelady fromearningher
own livingwithoutgivinghera finelady'sincome'.50In effect,once
Higgins'sbet is completed,Eliza belongsnowhere;no longerpossessing her'kerbstoneEnglish'she is ill-equippedto returnto thegutter,
and thoughpossessingin abundancethesocialmarkersofa 'lady',she
lacks the financialmeans to give them social reality.Her role in
Wimpole Street ends with her victoryat the ambassador'sgarden
afterwhichit, and she, are redundant:'What am I fitfor?
party,51
What have you leftme fitfor?Wheream I to go? Whatam I to do?
45 This pronunciationof Higgins's name is specifiedin the text of the filmversionof
Pygmalion(1941), 120.
46 Pygmalion, v. 174.
47 Crystal,EncyclopaediaofLanguage, 17.
48 Pygmalion,
Epilogue, 196.
49 Ibid.
Ibid. III. 158.
50so
51 In therevisedtextof 1938,thisis changedto theEmbassyBall.

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384

MUGGLESTONE

Whats to become of me?'52 The social consequencesof linguistic


whichit comports,are made still
change,and thenew publicidentity
clearerin thefinalActoftheplay; as Eliza stressesto Higgins:'whena
childis broughtto a foreigncountry,it picksup thelanguagein a few
weeks,and forgetsitsown. Well, I am a childin yourcountry.I have
forgotten
myown language,and can speaknothingbut yours.'53
The solutionis ofcoursein termsofEliza's originalsocialideal,the
'lady in the flowershop', a role unitingher new social abilitieswith
those more pragmaticones gained earlierbeneaththe auspices of
CoventGarden.ReplacingthecornerofTottenhamCourtRoad with
Kensington,54Eliza is able to 'belong' once more, linguistically,
no longerconmaterially,
socially,and, perhapsmore importantly,
demnedto feeling'a child'in a 'foreigncountry'.
Shaw's studyof the social markerswhichmakeup the seemingly
none the less valid, or
insurmountable
divisionsof class is therefore
of the play. Its
for
all
the
far-reaching,
apparentlightheartedness
social meaningcan be seen above all to residein the stressplaced on
values placed on the symbols
innateequality,againstthe arbitrary
ofincomeand enunciationwhich
whichobscureit, on thedifferences
may spuriouslysuggestacceptabilityor otherwise.The social, and
linguistic,mannersin whichEliza receivesher educationbelongof
courseonlyto thelatter,or at leastsuperficially,
but, as Higginstells
her at the end of the play, a true social educationmay ultimately
value: 'The
combineto give themanotherand altogetherdifferent
greatsecret,Eliza, is nothavingbad mannersor good mannersor any
otherparticularsortof manners,but havingthe same mannerforall
humansouls: in short,behavingas ifyouwerein Heaven,wherethere
In a
are no third-class
carriages,and one soul is as good as another.'55
Shavianparadox,themannerson whichPygmalion'scomedy
typically
has primarilybeen based are themselvesused to convey Shaw's
ofclass and itsdistincsocialistconvictionsabouttheinsubstantiality
tions: Higgins,intolerantand ultimatelyobliviousof social conventions, treats all duchesses as flower-girls;Pickering,with the
politenesswhichmakeshimaddressEliza as 'Miss Doolittle'even in
as duchesses.In thefinalcount,it
thebeginning,treatsall flower-girls
is thissenseofsocialbehaviourwhichmattersmost:'Reallyand truly,
apartfromthethingsanyonecan pickup (thedressingand theproper
52 Pygmalion(1941), 106. In the 1916textof
Pygmalion,thisreads,'What'sto becomeofme?
What'sto becomeofme?' (Iv. 163).
53 Ibid. v. 180.
54 Eliza's eventualsociallocation,as Shaw stressesin a letterto GabrielPascal (24 Feb. 1938),
and
halfgreengrocer's
'is not a Bond Streetshop, but a South Kensingtonone: halfflorist's,
fruiterer's'
(CollectedLetters1928-1950,ed. Dan H. Lawrence(London, 1989), 494).
ss Pygmalion,v. 184.

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PYGMALION

385

betweena lady and a


way of speaking,and so on), the difference
flowergirlis nothowshe behaves,but howshestreated',saysEliza,56
givingfinalexpressionto the 'real humanneeds' and 'worthysocial
structure'which, as Shaw has always been aware, continueto lie
ofsocialdisguise.
behindthesuperficialities

56 Ibid. v. 180.

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