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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. I, No. 1
May, 1977



January 9, 1977

Dear Professor Wilkins:

At the MLA Annual Convention held in New York on December 26-29, I read the Preview Issue of The Eugene O’Neill Newsletter. I am delighted with the plan to establish a Newsletter in which O’Neillians “of academe” and “of the proscenium” will have a chance to exchange their views on an American dramatist of international standing.

Since O’Neill’s dramatic scope is truly universal, it is little wonder that O’Neill scholarship also has an international character. There is a great deal of interest in O’Neill in Hungary, too. His greatest plays (The Emperor Jones, Desire Under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Electra, The Iceman Cometh, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten, A Touch of the Poet, and More Stately Mansions) have been translated into Hungarian. Among the one-act plays, the early Movie Man and the late Hughie can be read in Hungarian. There are plans for further translations as well. Most of these dramas are often played on the Hungarian stage with considerable success. A monograph entitled Eugene O’Neill, written in Hungarian by the dramaturgue of the Hungarian National Theatre, Andras Benedek, both indicated and increased O’Neill’s popularity.

I started my O’Neillian research at Harvard University in 1970, when I was granted a ten month fellowship by the International Research and Exchange Board. My special interest lay in,, the lyric aspect of the O’Neill canon, and I published a book, A kolteszet valosaga (The Reality of Poetry) at the end of 1975 (Budapest: The Publishing House of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), in which O’Neill plays a major role. Divided into sections devoted to the treatment of the poetic attitude, emotion, imagination, the lyric expression of space and time, poetic imagery and the lyric role of the acoustic plane (onomatopoeia, rhythm, and rhyme), the book elaborates on G. Lukacs’ definition of poetry; analyses poems and poetic genres; examines the penetration of poetry into fiction (chiefly in Joyce); and scrutinizes the synthesis of poetry and and drama in the plays of O’Neill. The word synthesis has been emphasized, since, I think, although in some plays such as The Fountain, or Marco Millions, or even Lazarus Laughed, poetry prevails, in the majority of his dramas, and certainly in the great plays of his late period, O’Neill succeeded in integrating his poetic impulses into a dramatically explosive pattern. Whereas in the modern theatre lyricism, not infrequently, would seem to dissolve the drama, as is so often the case in Maeterlinck’s works, in O’Neill’s best plays a veritable fusion takes place. His plays bear out the validity of Hegel’s view that the drama is a synthesis of fiction and poetry. (It need hardly be pointed out that, for Hegel, a synthesis is anything but a mechanical addition, and that the Hegelian concept presupposes the emergence of a new quality.)

Having been awarded another 10 month fellowship by the American Council of Learned Societies, I continue my O’Neill studies, this time at the University of California, in Berkeley. I plan to write a monograph on O’Neill, laying a special stress on possible reasons for the extraordinary creative outburst in the field of the drama in the United States at the time and since World War I. I also wish to probe into the epic aspect of O’Neill’s art (he certainly was a touch of the narrator, too), and hope to discuss in detail the relationship between the European drama and O’Neill. By way of a treble reference to O’Neill, Dreiser (symbolizing in this instance a number of American novelists) and Nietzsche, the provisional title of my envisaged book is The Birth of the American Tragedy.

If I add to this that O’Neill (along with Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee) is an important part of the American Studies Program in Hungarian universities, I may have suggested the high esteem he is held in--in various domains of the Hungarian cultural scene.

--Peter Egri



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