"The Fabian Waltz" is a witty romance set against the backdrop of late Victorian London, where poverty is all but ignored. Playwright George Bernard Shaw's life and work are upended by a challenging woman he cannot win. Shaw and his fellow Fabians fight for social justice and discover love along the way.
George Bernard Shaw, the Don Juan of London's progressive Fabian Society, finds himself attracted to an Irish millionairess: Charlotte Payne-Townshend. Shaw's best friend and fellow Fabian is Sidney Webb, a romantic Cockney intellectual. Webb pursues a beautiful social reformer named Beatrice Potter. Potter put aside the comforts of her upper-class life to go undercover in the city's sweatshops to expose the meager wages and horrid working conditions of the urban poor.
During the summer, the two couples share a country cottage. Oscar Wilde joins them to avoid the temptations of London – and his lover, Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. The Fabian work ethic, vegetarianism and social activism clash with Wilde's self-indulgence. He offers sage advice and amusing commentary as the romances bloom, then fade.
Returning to London, the friends make life-altering decisions, including one that leads to a tragic destiny.
Plot: Primarily a fictionalized memoir of George Bernard Shaw’s love life and involvement in the Fabian Society, the novel solidly balances a robust cast of characters and skillfully maps the connections between their stories. Readers will appreciate the biographical aspects of the novel as well as the romantic plotline, neither of which overpowers the other.
Prose/Style: While the voices of major characters tend to sound alike, the writing feels natural and accurate to the period. Some lines are overdramatic, particularly when Shaw flirts with his lovers, but these instances are not disruptive to the overall quality of the prose.
Originality: Although Shaw is a major figure in letters, the use of the epistolary form to weave together fictionalized entries from the memoirs of George Bernard Shaw and Robert Ross, letters of Beatrice Potter, and journals of Oscar Wilde displays an intricacy of craft that makes this novel stand out. Readers will appreciate how these plot lines work together to create a portrait of the early efforts of the Fabian Society.
Character Development/Execution: Each character’s motive is clearly defined and meshes well within the lives of the others. Together, this creates a robust portrait of their growth as individuals and within their social context.
Date Submitted: August 18, 2021
While the novel’s themes are plentiful and well-thought out, particularly its viewing of the lives of these characters through the sociopolitical lens of success and socialism, Hall’s wide-ranging interests preclude the page-turning plotting common in many popular historical novels. On the surface, the work appears to be an almost Shakespearean romance– ostensibly about the life of George Bernard Shaw, complete with theatrical dialog and over-the-top protestations worthy of the author of Man and Superman/s “Don Juan in Hell.” Hall relishes veering into vividly descriptive character studies that, while bright and sharp and rich with historic detail, nevertheless diminish the novel’s narrative urgency. The characters’ pontifical and pretentious turns of phrase are divisive by design: they’ll delight some readers and disenchant others.
The true strength of the piece lies in the flowing dialog and the unvarnished look at the these larger-than-life figures.Wilde’s guilt over the effects of his infamy on his beloved sons adds depth to a man too often depicted as merely profligate. Potter’s absolute devotion to her role as a woman and writer of intellectual substance is balanced by a quiet examination of her hopes and fears as a woman–not simply a social investigator or socialist. Coupled with quaint, evocative illustrations, the novel’s vibrancy and eloquent style offer an entertaining, illuminating study.
Takeaway: A charming, eloquent character study of Shaw and some of English lit’s luminaries.
Great for fans of: Peter Ackroyd’s The Last Testament of Oscar Wilde, Alan Ayckbourn.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A