Eugene Oneill


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O’neill, Eugene

 

Born Oct. 16, 1888, in New York; died Nov. 27, 1953, in Boston. American playwright.

O’Neill attended Catholic schools and a nonsectarian academy. In 1906 he entered Princeton University but left after a year. He worked as a seaman, and he was a reporter for a small-town newspaper. In 1914–15 he studied drama at Harvard University. He began his literary career as a poet. O’Neill’s first theatrical endeavors (the collection Thirst and Other One-Act Plays, 1914) were performed by an experimental theater in Provincetown, Mass. The psychological play Beyond the Horizon (1920, staged 1920; Pulitzer Prize) raised the problem of the tragic conflict between fantasy and reality.

O’Neill wrote a number of plays in an expressionistic style. The Hairy Ape (1922; Russian translation, 1925) is about the dehumanization of the individual in capitalist society, and All God’s Chillun Got Wings (written and staged in 1924; Russian translation, Negr [The Negro], 1930), a psychological drama, was one of the first American plays to draw attention to racial problems. Desire Under the Elms (written and staged in 1925; Russian translation, 1927) is a variation on the classic tragedy of property. Also written in an expressionistic style is Marco Millions (1927, staged 1928), a criticism of bourgeois civilization. During the 1920’s, O’Neill’s plays were staged in the USSR.

Toward the end of the 1920’s a crisis emerged in O’Neill’s creative work (the play Strange Interlude, 1928, which is marked by the writer’s interest in Freudian psychoanalysis). Among the later plays are Dynamo (1929), Days Without End (1934), and The Iceman Cometh (1939, published 1946). In 1934, O’Neill began work on a dramatic saga, A Tale of Possessors Self-dispossessed, which he conceptualized as an 11-play cycle covering life in America from 1775 to 1932. A few months before his death he destroyed the manuscripts of six of these plays. The most important of his autobiographical plays are A Moon for the Misbegotten (1942; published 1945; staged 1957) and Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1941; staged 1956). Characteristic of O’Neill’s style is realism combined with naturalism and expressionism. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1936.

WORKS

The Plays, vols. 1–3. New York, 1934.
Ah, Wilderness! … [Harmondsworth, 1966].
In Russian translation:
Zoloto. Moscow, 1928.
P’esy, vols. 1–2. [Moscow, 1971.]

REFERENCES

Startsev, A. “Neizvestnaia p’esa Iu. O’Nila.” In Inostrannaia literatura, 1956, no. 11.
Zlobin, G.“Liudi, obokravshie samikh sebia.” Ibid., 1965, no. 7.
Gelb, A., and B. Gelb. O’Neill. New York [1962].
Sheaffer, L. O’Neill, Son and Playwright. Boston-Toronto [1968].
Törnqvist, E. A Drama of Souls. New Haven-London, 1969.

E. IU. GENIEVA