Cover image for Eugene O'Neill : beyond mourning and tragedy
Eugene O'Neill : beyond mourning and tragedy
Black, Stephen A.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 543 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
PS3529.N5 Z5676 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
PS3529.N5 Z5676 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A critical biography of Eugene O'Neill, deeply informed by the insights of psychoanalysis. It covers his troubled childhood and adolescence, his mourning for his family, and his ultimate emergence from the preoccupation with grief and loss that pervaded his life and writings.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Much has been written about Eugene O'Neill--memoirs, biographies, critical essays--but little of it attains the depth and power of Black's absorbing, meticulously researched, intelligently written biography. Black, a professor of English and a trained psychoanalyst, uses the tools of both disciplines to examine every aspect of O'Neill's life: his childhood on the road with a famous actor-father, his troubled adolescence and dissipated youth, and his slow, painful growth from ne'er-do-well, wanna-be poet to Nobel Prize^-winning author. At times Black's analysis is quite painstaking, even ruthless, as when he peels back the layers of O'Neill's early years--especially the one containing the awful summer when O'Neill discovered his mother was a morphine addict--and proceeds to show the parallels between the reality of the playwright's life and the lives of the characters in Long Day's Journey into Night. But then, one needs to be a little ruthless when discussing a writer as rich and complex as O'Neill. Fortunately, Black's lively prose guarantees that even the most difficult passages in the book run smoothly. Those who don't believe in psychoanalysis may be skeptical of both O'Neill's work and Black's depiction of the dramatist, but that is their loss. Those open to a probing psychoanalytic discussion of O'Neill will be engrossed and fascinated. --Jack Helbig

Publisher's Weekly Review

Black, a professor of English at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and a psychoanalytic therapist, clearly states his central thesis in a prefatory chapter. "O'Neill spent most of his writing life in mourning," Black argues; his plays were the vehicles through which the playwright explored his tortured relationships with his father, mother and brother, and came to terms with their deaths, which all occurred in a devastating three-year period at the beginning of O'Neill's career. While this premise may sound simplistic, Black's examination of its manifestations in O'Neill's art is rich and complex. With his guidance, plays like Desire Under the Elms and Strange Interlude reveal the dramatist's intense interest in (and use of) Freudian theories, making Black's psychoanalytically oriented approach appropriate. Yet the author does not insist on that approach as the only one; indeed, he makes a cogent case for the tragic worldview O'Neill (1888-1953) imbibed from Greek drama as a means by which the playwright developed a more objective view of his family and shed some of his guilt over the pain he inflicted on them. In his stimulating consideration of the late plays (Long Day's Journey into Night, The Iceman Cometh and A Moon for the Misbegotten), which he believes contain strong comic elements usually ignored, Black paints a moving portrait of an artist who "had passed beyond mourning and tragedy." His thoughtful and provocative analysis does not supersede Louis Sheaffer's magnificent two-volume biography (O'Neill: Son and Playwright, 1968; O'Neill: Son and Artist, 1973), nor does it tell the whole story. Nonetheless, Black offers many fresh insights into the great American dramatist's life and work. 40 illus. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

One could ask, Do we need yet another biographical study of O'Neill? What can be left to say, especially given the exhaustive studies by Louis Sheaffer (O'Neill: Son and Artist and O'Neill: Son and Playwright, both AMS Press, 1988. reprints), among others? Black, a trained psychoanalytic therapist and English professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, demonstrates convincingly that there is indeed more to say. Using material from the Sheaffer-O'Neill Collection at the Shain Library at Connecticut Coll. as his springboard, Black offers a psychoanalytic framework to explore his thesis that much of O'Neill's work is the "work of mourning." He points to O'Neill's having had encounters with psychoanalysts in the 1920s and having considered his work a form of self-psychoanalysis. Closely analyzing some 5000 letters, the plays, other personal documents, and accounts by people who knew him, Black follows O'Neill's course of mourning. That O'Neill had a successful therapeutic outcome is shown in such plays as Hughie and A Moon for the Misbegotten. Highly recommended for all academic libraries and larger public libraries.ÄSusan L. Peters, Emory Univ. Lib., Atlanta (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Black's biography breaks little new ground so far as factual detail is concerned, and by intention; indeed, it pays frequent and deserved homage to Arthur Gelb and Barbara Gelb's pioneering biography O'Neill (1962; rev. ed., CH, Jul'74). Rather, Black's richly illustrated volume sets out to consider O'Neill as writing plays essentially as a means of self-therapy. Of course, hardly a writer does not do the same, consciously or not; but Black--a teacher of English and a trained psychotherapist as well--is unique in dealing with O'Neill as a writer whose work is not only patently informed by whatever he has most recently been reading (Freud, Strindberg) but who consciously set out to map the past and present directions of his life, sometimes even in the form of charts and diagrams. Black bears his knowledge lightly; one finds little of the tedious professional pseudomoralist reader here, though at times he proffers a highly speculative notion--but never insists on it. More often than he offers new matter gleaned from letters, Black makes appropriate use of familiar but fitting fare. Considering the sheer volume of "truth"-inducing chemicals O'Neill and his wife poured into their systems over the years, this volume records a miracle of self-preservation. Necessary for all collections. J. M. Ditsky; University of Windsor