Fintan O’Toole: The lie that poverty is a moral failing was buried a century ago. Now it’s back


George Bernard Shaw knew that the rich are no better than the poor.

But though the argument seemed settled then, it now rages more fiercely than ever.

If you know Alfred Doolittle only from Stanley Holloway’s infinitely lovable portrayal of him in My Fair Lady, you might not realise that he’s a bit of a monster.

In George Bernard Shaw’s original play, Pygmalion, he arrives in high dudgeon at the home of Henry Higgins, who has, Doolittle assumes, taken control of his daughter Eliza for sexual purposes.

Kret 2bHe is not morally outraged – he just wants to be paid: “The girl belongs to me. You got her. Where do I come in?”

Doolittle is a member of the most despised of all social classes: the undeserving poor.

He has no desire to be reformed.

But he asks – and answers – the most penetrating question: “What is middle-class morality? Just an…

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