This play is another first for me, in the sense that it is the first work of Shaw's that I have read. At first I had to force myself to simply get through the rather hefty and, at first impression, vehementedly ranting preface, but shortly the reading became more absorbing. The preface mainly regarded the effect of WWI on the present British society, and was very passionately written, which struck me as rather odd because I'm accustomed to reading heavily phlegmatic prefaces. However, it did provide an exceptionally insightful portrait of Great Britain, its society and fundamental establishments (including the Church and Theatre) after receiving a good battering from the shock of the Great War. In the midst of Shaw's very critical analysis, I did notice an iterative cause-and-effect operation in the writing, which was so logically linked together that extending the issues he so clamantly discussed to future events was not difficult to do. It made for a very interesting preface.
The play itself was no less interesting. It is not a laugh-out-loud comedy, but a strangely ludicrous black comedy. The special atmosphere of Captain Shotover's house (christened Heartbreak House by Ellie) adds to the effect of ludicrity. There are several characters involved in the play, all of whom I thought to be equally obsequious charlatans, but in the end turn out to be all human beings so confused by their self-elicited dishonesty that they doubt what it means to be woman or man, a member of English society, or to be a general owner of a soul. Each character seems to represent different classes of English society, for example Ellie, who believes that "body is soul, and soul is body" and that the soul can only be nourished by material objects only obtainable by considerable sums of money, is a member of the young "respectable" lower class, while Lady Utterwood is distinctly a member of English high society, and believes that normality can be installed into Heartbreak House by means of horse stables, "a feature of every proper English home", and that all whims of the soul can be cured by "ragging it about", either by flogging or throwing insults, and so forth.
In any case, what really animates this play is the subtle and clever way Shaw probes into the souls of the various people involved in the play, and comparing the values, vices and virtues of the old with those of the young 'uns. If you consider the entire setting as a metaphor, with Heartbreak House as a ship, and the ship representing England, the conflicts of interest Shaw expressed in the play between the different classes, as well as old and new, it is startling what an accurate prediction of England's future from that point can be drawn. That is brillant.