Thursday, August 23, 2012


My Fair Lady and Pygmalion

Problem: Are we safe to call something "a Pygmalion narrative"? If a particular narrative involves the creation of an idealized person, is it presumptuous to say that it is a telling of "the" myth of Pygmalion? No.

It's pretty easy to show that George Bernard Shaw consciously developed the Pygmalion myth in his play about Higgins and Eliza. The play's title, Pygmalion, after all, says it. Within the play itself, though Bernard Shaw mentions neither the myth nor the main players' names at any time. The Epilogue is the only spot after the title page that Bernard Shaw tips his hand and comments on the mythical Pygmalion and his relation to Higgins.

Are descendants of GBS's narrative necessarily participants in the Pygmalion tradition? That Lerner and Loewe knew that their narrative was grounded on the Pygmalion myth is highly likely, but not easily proved. My Fair Lady would seem to make no overt connection to GBS's Pygmalion nor to the Pygmalion myth at large. Naming Eliza and Higgins after the stage play's characters is fairly obvious reference to GBS's Pygmalion, to be sure. But, did they know, or care at all about Pygmalion qua classical myth?

What about adaptations of My Fair Lady, then? How many versions of My Fair Lady have come into existence since the 1960s. Weird Science, Pretty Woman, and many many more are in this tradition. But, are they "Pygmalions" per se?  Can it be said that they are creations of the Pygmalion motif itself; or, are these adaptations of the Lerner/Loewe instead? Does it matter?


1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see whether Ruby Sparks is aware of its belonging in this tradition, or whether only reviewers acknowledge the connection. Written by a young artist, who may or may not have considered the legacy of her narrative material. RTM