All that is generally known about the League of Nations is that it holds assemblies in Geneva at which the nations which belong to it confer with one another from time to time. But there is more than this in it. There is a Committee for International Cooperation which is so little known, and so neglected and starved that until Mr. Shaw’s play appeared hardly anyone knew of its existence; and even now they believe that it is an invention of Mr. Shaw’s. But it is quite real: Mr. Shaw has only transferred its office from Paris to Geneva; and it is at this office that the play opens with nobody in charge of it except a young typist from Camberwell who, as the winner of a County Council scholarship, has a considerable opinion of herself. As nobody ever visits the office or knows of its existence, she is astonished when on one and the same morning she is called upon by five people in succession, each with a grievance which they expect her to remedy as the representative of intellectual cooperation in Europe. She has not the faintest idea of how to set about it until the first visitor, a persecuted Jew, suggests that she apply to the International Court at The Hague for a warrant against his persecutors. The second visitor is a British democrat who has been locked out of a colonial legislature to which he has been elected. The third is the widow of a Central American President who has been shot. She has also been compelled by etiquette to shoot her best friend for having engaged the affection of her husband.
175 pages with a reading time of ~2.75 hours (43760 words), and first published in 1938. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2014.
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A May morning in Geneva, in a meagrely equipped office with secondhand furniture, much the worse for wear, consisting of a dingy writing table with an old typewriter on it in the middle of the room, a revolving chair for the typist, an old press which has not been painted or varnished for many years, and three chairs for visitors against the wall near the door. The stove, an undecorated iron one of the plainest sort, designed rather for central heating in a cellar than for an inhabited apartment, is to the typist’s right, the press facing it at the opposite side on the typist’s left. The door is beside the press. The window is behind the typist.
A young Englishwoman is seated in the revolving chair. From the state of the table she seems to have been working at the compilation of a card index, as there are cards scattered about, and an open case to put them in, also a pile of foolscap from which she has been copying the card inscriptions. But at present she is not at work. She is smoking and reading an illustrated magazine with her heels on the table. A thermos flask, a cup and saucer, and a packet of cigarettes are beside her on a sliding shelf drawn out from the table. She is a self-satisfied young person, fairly attractive and well aware of it. Her dress, though smartly cut, is factory made; and her speech and manners are London suburban.
Somebody knocks at the door. She hastily takes her heels off the table; jumps up; throws her cigarette into the stove; snatches the things off the sliding shelf and hides them in the press; finally resumes her seat and looks as busy as possible.
THE TYPIST [calling] Entrez, s’il vous plait.
A middle-aged gentleman of distinguished appearance, with a blond beard and moustache, top hatted, frock coated, and gloved, comes in. He contemplates the room and the young woman with evident surprise.
HE. Pardon, mademoiselle: I seek the office of the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation.
SHE. Yes: thats quite all right. Take a seat, please.
HE [hesitating] Thank you; but my business is of great importance: I must see your chief. This is not the head office, is it?
SHE. No: the head office is in Paris. This is all there is here. Not much of a place, is it?
HE. Well, I must confess that after visiting the magnificent palace of the International Labor Office and the new quarters of the Secretariat, I expected to find the Committee for Intellectual Co-operation lodged in some imposingly monumental structure.
SHE. Oh, isnt it scandalous? I wish youd write to the papers about it. Do please sit down.
HE. Thank you. [He is about to take one of the chairs from the wall].
SHE. No, not that one: one of its legs isnt safe: it’s there only for show. Will you please take the other?
HE. Can the Committee not afford you a new chair?
SHE. It cant afford anything. The intellectual budget is the interest on two million paper francs that one is glad to get threepence for: they used to be tuppence. So here I am in one rotten little room on the third floor of a tumbledown old house full of rats. And as to my salary I should be ashamed to name it. A Church charity would be ashamed to pay it.
HE. I am utterly astounded. [He takes a sound chair from the wall; places it near the office table; and sits down]. The intellectual co-operation of sixty nations must be a very extensive business. How can it possibly be conducted in this bare little place?
SHE. Oh, I conduct it all right. It’s never in a hurry, you know.
HE. But really–pardon me if I am taking too much of your time–
SHE. Oh, thats quite all right. I’m only too glad to have a bit of chat with somebody. Nobody ever comes in here: people dont seem to know that the Committee exists.
HE. Do you mean that you have nothing to do?
SHE. Oh no. I tell you I have to do all the intellectual co- operation. I have to do it singlehanded too: I havnt even an office boy to help me. And theres no end to the work. If it werent, as I say, that theres no hurry about it, I should never get through it. Just look here at this nice little job theyve given me! A card index of all the universities with the names and addresses of their bursars and their vice chancellors. And there is a correspondence about the protection of professional titles that takes up half my time.
HE. And do they call that intellectual co-operation?
SHE. Well, what else would you call it?
HE. It is mere compilation. How are the intellectual giants who form your committee bringing the enormous dynamic force of their brains, their prestige, their authority, to bear on the destinies of the nations? What are they doing to correct the mistakes of our ignorant politicians?
SHE. Well, we have their names on our notepaper, you know. What more can they do? You cant expect them to sit in this little hole talking to people. I have never seen one of them.
HE. So they leave it all to you?