Arms and the Man

by George Bernard Shaw
List(s):"Racine Library List"
Category: "Drama"
Year of Publication:1894
Date Added:08/13/2006
Date Read:03/08/2006
Notes:The play takes place during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War. Its heroine, Raina, is a young Bulgarian woman engaged to one of the heroes of that war, whom she idealizes. One night, a Swiss voluntary soldier to the Serbian army, Bluntschli, bursts into her bedroom and begs her to hide him, so that he is not killed. Raina complies, though she thinks the man a coward, especially when he tells her that he does not carry pistol cartridges, but chocolates.

During the course of the play, Raina comes to realize the hollowness of her romantic idea and her fiancé's values, and the true nobility of the "chocolate-cream soldier." The play concludes with her renouncing her idyllic love and proclaiming her love for Bluntschli.
My Rating: 7

Reviews for Arms and the Man

Review - Arms and the Man

Why I read the book: Racine List — 38 to go.

What the book was about: Bulgaria in 1885. The Bulgarian army is fighting for Russia against the Serbs. The Russians gain a great victory, led by the cavalry charge of Sergius. Bluntschli, A Serbian officer, fleeing for his life, takes refuge in the bedroom of Raina, a young woman from an aspiring family who is Sergius’s fiance. He threatens her at first, but is so tired that he soon gives up and sits down. He admits that his pistol isn’t loaded because he only carries chocolate in the ammunition belt, but it’s all gone and he’s hungry. Raina gives him chocolate and, when a Russian officer arrives to look for him, hides him. He tells Raina that Sergius was a fool and would have been shot if his artillery had been given the proper ammunition.

A few months later, the war is over. Raina’s father and Sergius return. While Raina is out of the room, Sergius flirts with the pretty servant girl, Louka. Louka tells him about Raina and Bluntschli, who soon shows up to return the coat he borrowed. There’s a lot of misunderstandings and confusion, but in the end, Sergius marries Louka and Raina marries her chocolate-cream solder.

What I liked about the book: It was clever. It put me in mind of The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde and She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith (both on the Carp 500). In a preface, Shaw says that he writes his poems more to be read than to be acted, and it was evident here. It was probably at least half descriptions and stage directions and half dialogue.

What I didn’t like about the book: Nothing really bothered me. I enjoyed it more than either of the other Shavian plays I’ve read.

The most interesting quote:

Bluntschli: [grinning wearily at the sarcasm as he takes the pistol] No use, dear young lady: there’s nothing in it. It’s not loaded. [He makes a grimace at it, and drops it disparagingly into his revolver case].

Raina: Load it by all means.

Bluntschli: I’ve no ammunition. What use are cartridges in battle? I always carry chocolate instead; and I finished the last cake of that hours ago.

Raina: [outraged in her most cherished ideals of manhood] Chocolate! Do you stuff your pockets with sweets — like a schoolboy — even in the field?

Bluntschli: [grinning] Yes: isnt it contemptible? [Hungrily] I wish I had some now.

Recommendation: I gave it a 7, which is one rating higher than I gave Pygmalion (which is the basis for My Fair Lady).

Further Comments: Besides being a playwright, Shaw was a notable egotist (he invented the word Shavian to describe someone devoted to him) and wit. Here are some samples:

• Americans adore me and will go on adoring me until I say something nice about them.
• Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.
• England and America are two countries separated by a common language.
• If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion.
• The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.

He was also a proponent of a phonetic alphabet. In his will, he provided for a "contest" to design a new, "phonetic" (based on the speech of England's late King George V) alphabet for English. The contest was held during 1958. The alphabet chosen, which is referred to as the "Shavian" alphabet, has 48 characters, which are different looking from Roman letters. The designer's name is Kingsley Read.
Back to the list