Cover image for Eugene O'Neill : a life in four acts
Eugene O'Neill : a life in four acts
Dowling, Robert M., 1970- , author.
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [2014]
Physical Description:
xi, 569 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
"A major new biography of the Nobel Prize-winning playwright whose brilliantly original plays revolutionized American theater"-- Provided by publisher.
The Irish luck kid -- "Life is a tragedy-- hurrah!" -- The ghosts at the stage door. The treasures of Monte Cristo ; School days of an apostate ; Anarchist in the tropics ; Exorcism in New York ; Return to Monte Cristo ; The (love) sick apprentice ; It takes a village -- "To be an artist or nothing." Washed ashore at land's end ; Below Washington Square ; "Turn back the universe" ; "The town is yours" ; Civilization unmasked ; The theatre F(r)eud -- "The Broadway show shop." Prometheus unbound ; Draining bitter cups ; Note to the Ku Klux Klan ; "God's hard, not easy" ; The novelist behind the mask "Old Doc" at Loon Lodge ; The soliloquy is dead! Long live-- what? -- Full fathom five. Uncharted seas ; L'Aeschylus du Plessis ; The Prodigal returns ; "The game isn't worth the candle" ; Pandora's box ; The tyranny of time ; silence's end ; "There's a lot to be said for being dead" -- Journey into light -- Appendix. Selected chronology of works (date completed).
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PS3529.N5 Z6284 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3529.N5 Z6284 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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A major new biography of the Nobel Prize-winning playwright whose brilliantly original plays revolutionized American theater

Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

This extraordinary new biography fully captures the intimacies of Eugene O'Neill's tumultuous life and the profound impact of his work on American drama. Robert M. Dowling innovatively recounts O'Neill's life in four acts, thus highlighting how the stories he told for the stage interweave with his actual life stories. Each episode also uncovers how O'Neill's work was utterly intertwined with, and galvanized by, the culture and history of his time.

Much is new in this extensively researched book: connections between O'Neill's plays and his political and philosophical worldview; insights into his Irish upbringing and lifelong torment over losing faith in God; his vital role in African American cultural history; unpublished photographs, including a unique offstage picture of him with his lover Louise Bryant; new evidence of O'Neill's desire to become a novelist and what this reveals about his unique dramatic voice; and a startling revelation about the release of Long Day's Journey Into Night in defiance of his explicit instructions. This biography is also the first to discuss O'Neill's lost play Exorcism (a single copy of which was only recently recovered), a dramatization of his own suicide attempt.

Written with lively informality yet a scholar's strict accuracy, Eugene O'Neill: A Life in Four Acts is a biography that America's foremost playwright richly deserves.

Author Notes

Robert M. Dowling is professor of English at Central Connecticut State University. He has published extensively on O'Neill and serves on the board of directors of the Eugene O'Neill Society.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

That America's greatest playwright was one messed-up man may not be news, but Dowling's clear-eyed, just-the-facts biography makes it dismayingly fresh. Just when one thinks that O'Neill can't do anything worse than his last knock-down, drag-out with the wife at hand, he tops himself. Indeed, he reserved his most histrionic marital donnybrooks for his last and most uh, uh, uh accommodating marriage. Meanwhile, he was involved with the most dazzling set of creative philosophical anarchists ever, in Greenwich Village in the twentieth century's second and third decades, and sculpting serious, naturalist-cum-expressionist American theater during the entire interwar period, binge drinking all the while. Fortunately, until a neurological disorder disabled him, he was binge writing, soberly, too. Dowling brings all this herculean activity vividly to life, adding a handful of newly discovered information and photos to the spectacle of existential angst O'Neill played out. He doesn't venture any appraisal of O'Neill's work, reputation, and heritage, however, which will disappoint anyone expecting a critical biography. But for the kaleidoscopic horror show that was O'Neill's life, this is the book.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

A self-described "tragic optimist," O'Neill, winner of four Pulitzer Prizes for drama and the only American dramatist to win the Nobel Prize, is thoroughly anatomized in this absorbing biography. Dowling, an English professor and board member of the Eugene O'Neill Society, begins with O'Neill's upbringing amid theatrical royalty-his father, James, was regarded as one of his generation's greatest actors-and subsequent rebellion against the era's theatrical conventions. Falling in with the Provincetown Players in 1916, he wrote a series of frank, unsettling plays first staged between 1920 and 1924-The Emperor Jones and Anna Christie, among them-that revolutionized American theater even while angering the guardians of public morality. Dowling provides insightful interpretations of O'Neill's lesser-known plays that give context for the masterpieces, and draws extensively from letters, diaries, and memoirs that tell this story in O'Neill's own words and those of his associates. The book unflinchingly explores the darkness that dominated O'Neill's life-O'Neill and his brother, Jim, were chronic alcoholics, his mother Ella was a morphine addict, and Eugene was a negligent husband and father-and emerged in his most autobiographical works, including The Iceman Cometh and Long Day's Journey into Night. As portrayed by Dowling, O'Neill was an artist dedicated to channeling his hatreds and the demons that dogged him into works of creative genius. 49 b&w illus. Agent: Geri Thoma, Elaine Markson Literary Agency. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

As O'Neill scholar Dowling (English, Central Connecticut State Univ.) makes clear in this biography's title, the connection between the playwright's life and work takes center stage. In plays such as Long Day's Journey into Night the synthesis is obvious. The real depth of scholarship shows in tying expressionistic pieces, for example, The Hairy Ape and The Great God Brown to O'Neill's psyche. The facts of the playwright's private life are by and large sordid and the biographer does not shy away from depicting the physical and psychological abuse that the great pioneer of the American avant-garde stage heaped on friends and family alike. The volume also serves to reveal the latest discoveries in O'Neill scholarship, including previously unpublished poetry, his desire to abandon the theater to write novels exclusively, and, perhaps most valuable, the legal machinations and petty jealousies that led to the early release of his masterpiece Long Day's Journey into Night. VERDICT A well-rounded portrait of the playwright that can serve as a comprehensive introduction while also considering previously unknown facets of O'Neill's life and work. John Frank, Los Angeles P.L. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Dowling (Central Connecticut State Univ.) has written a fascinating biography of O'Neill (1888-1953), the only American dramatist to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The biography portrays O'Neill's dysfunctional childhood, his life as a sailor, and his eventual discovery by the Provincetown Players. His early works, from the "sea plays" to such full-length masterpieces as Desire under the Elms and Anna Christie, mark the transformation of American drama. The strength of the book is the meticulous weaving of the events that had happened, or were happening, in the playwright's life with the plays themselves. This is particularly evident in Exorcism, written in 1919 but found only recently. Dowling does not shy away from the more unsettling aspects of O'Neill's life, including his alcoholism, his outright negligence as a father, and his troubled marriages. He might once and forever have set the record straight on the strange events surrounding the publication and staging of the autobiographical Long Day's Journey into Night. Making extensive use of letters, diaries, and newspaper reviews of O'Neill's works, Dowling paints a picture of a scared, emotionally troubled playwright using the theater as a means to escape the past--and in so doing forging a new American drama. Summing Up: Essential. All readers --Michael D. Whitlatch, Buena Vista University