Stead published it all in full. His offices at the Pall Mall Gazette were so besieged for copies that the police had to be called to control the crowd. This, in its turn, fuelled the public outcry. A huge petition signed by 400,000 people was presented to the House of Commons and the Bill to raise the Age of Consent was passed, but the law was still the law. Stead was given three months in gaol without hard labour and, in later years, wore his prison uniform with pride at each anniversary.

Shaw knew Stead, but never quite forgave him for the debacle of the trial, believing that it was a put up job. However, it can perhaps be argued that when he was writing Pygmalion, the Elizabeth Armstrong case came into his mind. At the trial she was called Eliza; the £5 given to Dolittle by Higgins matches the £5 mentioned at the trial; while "bringing her up to an age to be of interest to a gentleman like you," has similar overtones. Dolittle too claims to be one of the 'undeserving poor'. This phrase arose from the philanthropic housing movement which tried to provide cheap housing for the 'deserving poor'. Armstrong did not seem to be deserving on any count.

pic18

W.T. Stead, editor of the
Pall Mall Gazette.

Years later Stead perished
on the Titanic.

The first mention of the play is in a letter from Shaw to the actress Ellen Terry, dated 8 September 1897.

'Caesar and Cleopatra has been driven clean out of my head by a play I want to write for them (Richard Mansfield, who at this time was playing in Shaw's 'Devil's Disciple', and Mrs Patrick Campbell) in which he shall be a West End gentleman and she an East End 'dona' in an apron and three orange and red feathers.'

It was to be fifteen years before the play was first performed, during which time a thousand memories would have come into his mind and they would have included real people and the real living conditions of the poor of London. Shaw was a Vestryman (a Local Councilor) in St. Pancras for years. In his letters Shaw was perpetually urging other writers to work as he did, writing plays in the mornings and dealing with sewers and other real problems in the afternoons. He would not have used the Eliza Armstrong case directly as the subject for the play, but writers collect their material from the air around them and the coincidences make it possible to argue that Shaw's charming gamine bore some relationship to the girl who may have gone to a Bell Street School.

 

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Updated March 11, 2011