'Don't bother me with this rubbish': Shaw's advice to an aspiring writer

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George Bernard Shaw was merciless in putting down his critics. Now newly discovered letters reveal the irascible playwright was also quick to rebuke anyone who had the temerity to ask his advice on literary matters.

George Bernard Shaw was merciless in putting down his critics. Now newly discovered letters reveal the irascible playwright was also quick to rebuke anyone who had the temerity to ask his advice on literary matters.

In a set of five previously unpublished letters which are expected to fetch £1,800 at auction next month, he wrote to one aspiring author: "Your story is a trifle that may have been written by any amateur. Don't make a confounded nuisance of yourself ... don't bother me with this rubbish."

Alfred Ridgway, who later achieved some success with short stories, first began writing to Shaw in 1942. At first the Dublin-born playwright was polite and suggested he acquire a reader's ticket at the British Museum and to make the reading room his "daily refuge as I did for many years and Samuel Butler and Karl Marx did all their lives."

He added: "Quiet is compulsory and the desks and seats are very commodious: if you cannot write there you cannot write anywhere.

"Much of my work has been done in railway carriages and on bus tops," he said. But when Ridgway offered to work for the author for nothing, Shaw, who had himself suffered from long periods of struggle and poverty, said: "Do not steal another poor man's job by offering to do it for nothing. You have a duty to your fellows as well as to yourself.

"If you are not conscious of it you are a fool ... you must stifle the parasitical impulse to fasten on and cling to persons who seem to you strong and successful ... You must stand on your own two feet, however rickety they may feel. Everybody has to."

By 1944, Shaw had tired of the correspondence, telling Ridgway: "Please pursue your literary career without bothering me about it."Two years later, clearly exasperated at receiving another manuscript,Shaw simply tore out the title page and scrawled: "Read my works and don't bother me with this rubbish."

Despite Shaw's lack of enthusiasm, Ridgway, who changed his name to Athelstan, persevered and eventually became a journalist, editor and writer. He published many short stories and became the master of the "fantasy" story.

Sarah Wombwell of Christie's book department said that the letters, which are being sold by Ridgway's wife Michelle, gave a fascinating insight into the true character of Shaw.

"He was renowned for his caustic comments and he was inundated by letters from people, but [his responses] are particularly rude and it really brings out his character."

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