The Utopian Potential of Aging and Longevity in Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah (1921)


  • Siân Adiseshiah Loughborough University





George Bernard Shaw’s five-part play cycle Back to Methuselah (1921) has not been fully appreciated for its utopian criticality, a criticality that offers a profound reframing of longevity and old age. That it is a utopia in dramatic (rather than prose) form, deploys an unusual mix of largely comic genres and styles, pursues eccentric ideas of Creative Evolution, and is exceptionally long and unwieldy in production has led to a mostly limited and perplexed scholarly reception from within both utopian and Shaw studies. Against this context, this article unearths the utopian potential of Back to Methuselah, where aging and longevity serve to make possible the emergence of superior human capacity, which is uniquely able to establish and sustain a better world because of the qualities acquired through extended life. In particular, it argues that taking account of the play as a utopian text—with its radical representation of old age as cumulative value—expands to include age in addition to existing progressive narratives familiar from utopian literature since Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), which fundamentally rethink identities of class, gender, race, and sexuality.

Author Biography

Siân Adiseshiah, Loughborough University

is Senior Lecturer in English and Drama at Loughborough University. She is co-editor of Twenty-First Century Drama: What Happens Now (Palgrave, 2016), co-editor of Twenty-First Century Fiction: What Happens Now (Palgrave, 2013) and author of Churchill’s Socialism: Political Resistance in the Plays of Caryl Churchill (CSP, 2009). She is also co-editor of forthcomingdebbie tucker green: Critical Perspectives (Palgrave, 2019), and her current monograph Utopian Drama: In Search of a Genre is forthcoming with Bloomsbury in 2021. Her research interests lie mostly in contemporary theatre and twenty-first-century literary studies, utopianism, class studies, women’s writing, and age studies. She is Principal Convenor of the British Academy conference, “Narratives of Old Age and Gender,” September 2019. Readers may write to Siân Adiseshiah at


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How to Cite

Adiseshiah, S. . “The Utopian Potential of Aging and Longevity in Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah (1921)”. Age, Culture, Humanities: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 4, Jan. 2020, pp. 1-26, doi:10.7146/ageculturehumanities.v4i.130589.



Research Article