George Bernard Shaw knew about boxing. He studied it, took part in sparring sessions, and even entered the Queensberry Amateur Boxing Championship in 1883. Thirty-five years later, he struck up a well-documented friendship with American professional boxer and world heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney. Much has been written about Shaw’s interest in boxing and his relationship with Tunney, but amongst the wealth of writing that exists about Shaw’s life and works, very little is to be found about his fourth novel, with its prizefighter hero, Cashel Byron’s Profession.
For George Bernard Shaw Cashel Byron’s Profession was ‘my classic – my masterpiece – my one complete work of art’. Within it, the eponymous hero embodies science and morality in an illegal sport that, to many belonging to the higher Victorian classes, was a wholly immoral pastime.
This paper considers the problems of class and classification within Cashel Byron’s Profession, examining the novel’s multiple taxonomies and ambiguities of definition. It looks at accepted notions of respectability and indecency within the political, social, moral and cultural spheres, exploring how these notions are played out or overturned through its pugilistic concerns, questioning whether the novel challenges the common perception is that sport and art are ultimately antagonistic, as an aesthete and an athlete are pitted against each other in a battle of brains versus brawn.