Discuss the ways in which your chosen texts (Shaw's "Pygmalion" and Rhys' "Wide Sargasso Sea") exploit the traditions and conventions of their genre both formally and in terms of content.

Essay by LazzaJazzUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, October 2005

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I have chosen to base my answer to this question on "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean

Rhys and "Pygmalion" by G.B Shaw. Both authors were aware of the traditions and

conventions that governed literature as a whole as we shall see, and although they

were written in different literary era's, similarities can be drawn between these


Shaw's Pygmalion is titled 'A Romance in Five Acts.' This play is hardly your

typical romance, there's no love story and neither protagonists fall in love with each

other. This perhaps is our first introduction to what has become known as a

'Shavian Paradox....a delight in turning all kinds of truisms and commonplaces

upside down.'

The mythical inspiration behind this play can be found in 'Ovid's Metamorphoses'

a 'collection of myths,' and tells the story of Pygmalion, a sculpture, who

'scornful of women falls, in love with his perfect statue,' Venus answers his prayers and the statue is given life so Pygmalion can marry her.

Shaw's version is not however a direct translation, whilst there is a transformation, Shaw's tale does not end with romance. Shaw's 'Pygmalion' is Henry Higgins a fanatic phonetician and his 'statue' is Eliza Doolittle, a working class cockney flower girl, the story is centred around a bet made that 'in three months I (Higgins) could pass that girl (Eliza) off as a duchess.' Shaw's intention was not to recreate an old love story, his concern lay with 'the role and power of the artist and the autonomy and rights of the statue.' This can be illustrated if we look to Act Five where both Eliza and Higgins are desperately trying to assert themselves with Eliza saying of Higgins 'I can do without you: Don't you think I can't and Higgins saying of Eliza 'I created...