Menu Bar

Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VIII, No. 3
Winter, 1984



[Books devoted in full or in part to O'Neill, his times, and his associates are appearing with increasing frequency--a boon to scholars and fans, and a bane to at least one editor who must, for spatial and temporal reasons, postpone coverage of some of them, with apologies to authors, editors and publishers whose efforts deserve much hastier celebration. This issue's reviews are of reference works--three new one, and one standard, well-established volume that remains in print and has not previously been assessed in the Newsletter. The next issue will feature a fuller, more detailed examination by Jackson Bryer of Professor Ranald's Eugene O'Neill Companion, as well as reviews of Critical Essays on Eugene O'Neill, edited by James J. Martine (G.K. Hall, 1984), Winifred L. Frazer's Mabel Dodge Luhan (Twayne, 1984), and the sections on O'Neill in C.W.E. Bigsby's A Critical Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Drama (Cambridge U. Press, 1982); J.L. Styan's Modern Drama in Theory and Practice, Vols. I and III (Cambridge U. Press, 1981); and Beongcheon Yu's The Great Circle: American Writers and the Orient (Wayne State U. Press, 1983); plus any other works that reach the editor's desk in the interim, which he promises will be brief.]

1. THE EUGENE O'NEILL COMPANION, by Margaret Loftus Ranald. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984, xi + 827 pp. $65.00, cloth. ISBN 0-313-22551-6.

Louis Sheaffer, reviewing the Ranald Companion for the New London, CT newspaper The Day, offered high praise with which it would be very hard to disagree. Since it "contains the answers to virtually everything you ever wanted to know about our greatest playwright but were too lazy or didn't know how to look up," he wrote, it is not only "the indispensable reference work on O'Neill" but "one of the three or four in-dispensable books on the playwright." As a "massive distillation of scores of books and other writings," it will, as he suggests, be of tremendous aid to students of O'Neill while simultaneously providing "enjoyable browsing for theater buffs." And few if any scholars, not even those most intimate with the man and his work, will fail to find much food for thought in its alphabetized amalgam of plot synopses, character descriptions, essays on theatre companies associated with O'Neill, and biographical sketches of the playwright, his family, friends and associates, and a number of actors whose careers have featured memorable work in productions of his plays. Following the main, encyclopedic part of the volume are three appendices--a chronology of O'Neill's completed plays; lists, alphabetized by genre, of adaptations of O'Neill's work for other media (excluding television); and a succinct assessment by Professor Ranald of "O'Neill's Theory and Practice of the Theatre"--and the book concludes with a list of references cited, a "select bibliography of O'Neill scholarship to 1983" (preceded by a helpful six-page essay), and an index. A monumental labor of love, and indispensable indeed. An O'Neillian can almost say of it what Dryden said of The Canterbury Tales: "Here is God's plenty!"

A brief comparison with the Bernard Shaw Companion by Michael and Mollie Hardwick (London: John Murray, 1973) will highlight the superiority of the present volume. The Hardwicks begin with a chronology of Shaw's works. (Ranald's adds the date of each's first production.) They follow with plot synopses in chronological order, preceding them with an index of titles that offers little help in finding a particular play since it too is in chronological order. (Ranald's synopses are not only more easily located, being alphabetized; they are also much fuller and more detailed, and include production data, textual notes and judicious evaluative comments. The Hardwicks' synopses are so succinct--51 in 81 pages--that a newcomer to some of Shaw's plays would be bewildered by their jottings. Ranald, in contrast, jogs the memories of veterans, skillfully prepares neophytes for the reading ahead, and provides both groups with stimulating insights.) The Hardwicks next provide a "who's who" of Shaw's characters--476 of them in 58 pages: details-with-quotations that vary in length from one line to twelve. Take, as an example, the entry for one of Shaw's most intriguing women,

SZCZEPANOWSKA, LINA. Polish acrobat, strongly independent and "a remarkably good looking woman."--Misalliance.

and compare it with Ranald's two-page analysis of Nina Leeds (pp. 368-370), which traces her career and complex relationships, delineates her feelings and motivations, shows how she "represents the history of woman," suggests the influence of Strindberg on her characterization, and compares her to another of O'Neill's characters. (Granted, my comparison is unfair: Lina is less character than catalyst, whereas Nina is a protagonist who develops through nine acts and deserves more extended treatment. But even Yvette, the wife in A Wife for a Life, who is never seen, is allotted fuller coverage by Ranald than the Hardwicks devote to John Tanner and Ann Whitefield combined!) The Hardwicks conclude with a "sampler of quotations"--25 pages of Shavian pronouncements on seven subjects (the English, religion, the sexes, etc.)--and a brief life of the playwright. Ranald omits a sampler (no great loss, though one might enjoy one else-where); but her biographical sketch of O'Neill (26 big pages) is far richer that the Hardwicks' of Shaw (18 little pages), and is studded with asterisks that lead the reader to a wealth of tangential information (about people, plays, places and groups) available elsewhere in the volume. I like the Hardwicks' book; it's a more portable "companion," particularly helpful when summering at the Shaw Festival in Ontario. But the Ranald volume, even if housebound, will far outdistance its shelfmate in use and value.

Having expressed my admiration, I may perhaps be forgiven a few reservations. Not many, and none serious, but some notes that might be of use in preparing future editions. (The Companion is sure to have a long life; future developments will doubtless necessitate a second edition; and it is, I think, a sign of the book's success that it arouses such proprietary interest in the reader.)

Errors of commission are extremely few. (Mr. Sheaffer, whose knowledge of O'Neill's life is second to none, detected an exaggeration of the separation between Oona O'Neill and her mother after the former's marriage to Charles Chaplin: actually, they had several meetings, and Oona, despite geographical distance and her duties as wife and mother, never neglected Agnes. But he found Ranald's treatment of biographical subjects "generally fair and even-handed," especially in her coverage of 0'Neill's much-maligned third wife, Carlotta Monterey.) Fredric March played Harry Hope, not Hickey, in the film of Iceman (p. 409). And it must be Richard Miller, not his brother Arthur, who is the playwright's alter ego in Ah, Wilderness! (p. 757). Some of the plays and adaptations suffer rather cavalier rejection: surely there is enough of at least tangential interest in The First Man, for instance, to rescue it from being dismissed as "eminently forgettable"! And the parenthetical designations accompanying proper names in the index, while they do pinpoint people's specific relations to O'Neill, are sometimes inexact (George Bellows is listed merely as "acquaintance"), sometimes inconsistent (why call the Gelbs "authors" and Louis Sheaffer "critic," when "biographer[s]" would be more specific in both cases?), and sometimes near-comic in their incompleteness: Stark Young as "director," William Zorach as "designer," John Reed as "revolutionary," and Terry Carlin--surely as much an "acquaintance" as George Bellows--offered no label at all, like Lynne Fontanne, even though her husband, Alfred Lunt, is rightly (if unnecessarily) identified as "actor." I'd urge the discarding of all such labels; the only loss would be a few gratuitous chuckles.

The omissions can hardly be called errors, since a book even twice as long could not include everything and everybody associated with O'Neill, and each reader's orientation and interests will determine what he would like to see added and what he considers expendable. Theatre and film buffs will relish the biographies of actors, while scholars might wish that they and their brethren had been accorded equal space. (That the index includes Peter Falk but omits Doris Falk is evidence of at least a slight imbalance in emphasis between two of the realms deserving treatment in an O'Neill "companion.") Why a full-page survey of the career of Greta Garbo, whose O'Neill connection is limited to one (admittedly brilliant) screen role? And why, if it is justified, is there no comparable entry for Blanche Sweet? The entry for the quintessential O'Neill performer Jason Robards is more understandable, though it should not have omitted his indelible performance as Con Melody in the latest Broadway production of A Touch of the Poet, Why, if Karl Ragnar Gierow is (rightly) included, is there no comparable entry for Donald Gallup, whose roles as curator and adapter are equally important parts of the record? (And I should add that Esther Jackson's report, at last March's O'Neill conference, on the performance of The Calms of Capricorn at Madison answered affirmatively Professor Ranald's uncertainty [p. 110] about "whether it should be produced as a play.") And why does the chronology in Appendix A include no production details for The Web and A Wife for a Life? Newsletter regulars know that they were performed in New York City a few years ago.

Such whys could multiply, and each reader will probably produce his own. I'd have welcomed an entry for Harry Kemp, the "poet of the dunes," who, because of his performance in Bound East for Cardiff, is identified in the index simply as "actor." And if Bridget, the unseen cook in Long Day's Journey, is not as worthy of inclusion as Yvette--though I think she is--certainly the catalytic gambler, Arnold Rothstein, is.

But one hates to seem a carping ingrate when confronted with such an abundance of riches as Professor Ranald provides. Her appendicized assessment of O'Neill's dramaturgic development is a masterful work of summation--especially the treatment (pp. 753-755) of O'Neill's "experiments in myth" and his greater success as myth-user than as myth-maker. She was ably assisted by Gary Jay Williams, who provided the entries on the Provincetown Players and the Experimental Theatre, Inc. And I'll forgive her repetition of the old charge about O'Neill's lack of verbal felicity (p. 757), out of gratitude for her earlier defense of the underrated, underperformed early plays (p. viii).

We have long needed such a book, and we should be extremely grateful to Professor Ranald for creating it. Her herculean effort is unlikely to be rivaled in our time and deserves fuller coverage than I have here given it. Accordingly, a second review, by Jackson R. Bryer, will appear in the Newsletter's next issue. --Ed.

2. EUGENE O'NEILL: RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES AND DISSERTATION ABSTRACTS, ed. Tetsumaro Hayashi. McFarland & Company, Inc. [Box 611, Jefferson, NC 28640], 1983. x + 155 pp. $27.95, cloth. ISBN 0-89950-090-0.

$27.50 is a hefty price for a book of 165 pages, even one as handsomely and sturdily bound as this. But the wealth of material it contains makes the price well worth paying: it is a must for any library serving a graduate English or drama program, and no toiler in the O'Neillian vineyards--be he established scholar, graduate adviser, imminent dissertator or lowly research-paper writer--will regret the investment, given the ease it provides in locating materials otherwise widely scattered and difficult or impossible to acquire. McFarland is to be commended for constructing it so well: it will get a lot of use.

The main body of the book (pp. 22-144) comprises a chronological list of the 139 dissertations all or partly on O'Neill that were completed by American doctoral candidates between 1928 and 1980, and provides the abstracts of all but the 23 that were not summarized by their authors in Dissertation Abstracts or (after 1969) in Dissertation Abstracts International. (The list is alphabetized by authors' names for years that saw more than one dissertation.) Professor Hayashi has performed a major service to scholarship, not only by gathering the abstracts in one place, but also by indexing them quadruply--by author, title, university, and subject. The first index assists one in the tangential treat of discovering where one's fellow O'Neillians began; and the fourth (the most valuable) will be a boon to enterprising scholars by helping them discover what has been done--and, more interestingly, what has not been done--in an area they wish to explore. [The editor of the Newsletter herewith issues a blanket invitation to the 23 authors of unabstracted dissertations to summarize their wares in future issues, so that the record can inch even closer to completeness. And anyone willing to acquire and survey the missing 23 is assured of congratulatory prominence for his compilation!]

A two-part introductory essay by Robert L. Tener enriches the volume with "A Review of Past Research (1928-1980)" (pp. 3-18), that traces the trends in subject and emphasis through the years and makes reference as well to the major books and articles on O'Neill (not included in any of the indexes, alas); and suggestions of "Future Opportunities" (pp. 18-21)--subjects that have been treated insufficiently or not at all. As the four pages make clear, much remains to be done. Two of the major lacunae--the lack of a definitive edition of O'Neill's plays and of a comprehensive collection of his letters--will soon be removed, thanks to the labors of Travis Bogard and Jackson Bryer. But Tener lists a number of others--textual studies, assessments of O'Neill's technical and scenic innovations, of his use of song and music, his creative process, his characterization, his influence on other writers, his reputation in Spanish-speaking countries, etc.--that await definitive investigation. Only one goof--the not in "Perhaps the time has come to leave behind the idea that he was not an autobiographical writer" (!)--mars an otherwise excellent blend of overview and advice.

Such a book naturally gets more dated with every passing semester. All the dissertations since 1980 must await a second edition; and the opening "Checklist of O'Neill's Published Plays" omits the editions, by Ticknor & Fields and Random House respectively, of The Calms of Capricorn (1981) and Chris Christophersen (1982), surely publications that a 1983 list should include. But the plusses far outweigh such miniscule minuses. This is an important book. Buy it, or, if parsimonious, see that your library does. --Ed.

3. AMERICAN DRAMA CRITICISM. SUPPLEMENT I to the SECOND EDITION, compiled by Floyd Eugene Eddleman. Hamden, CT: The Shoe String Press, Inc., 1984. 255 pp. $29.50, cloth. ISBN 0-208-01978-2.

The second edition of American Drama Criticism appeared in 1979, and the current volume lists "interpretations of American plays published in books, periodicals, and monographs" between that time and 1983. The volume is arranged alphabetically by playwrights' names, each author's section being subdivided alphabetically by play titles, with the addition, new to this supplement, of a "general" category before the first listed play. No annotations or summaries are included, and, as the compiler's preface indicates, "the quality of the articles was not considered; the only criterion was that critical material relating to a certain play could be located in a particular book or article." One could hardly expect more, and in this instance the price need not be lamented as it will most likely be largely borne by libraries, where it will be of great value to students, scholars and critics. The compiler does not claim that the coverage is exhaustive, but I find no significant omissions, though I admit to a few moments of skimming between George Abbott, the first playwright included, and Howard Zinn, the last. The book concludes with two lists--of books indexed and journals indexed--and four indexes--of critics, adapted authors and works, titles, and playwrights. Eddleman's work was diligently done.

The O'Neill section, which I surveyed with greatest care, contains 230 entries--96 "general," and 134 spread among 25 plays, the most heavily covered being Long Day's Journey (24 entries), The Iceman Cometh (18), The Hairy Ape (16), and A Touch of the Poet (13). Eight plays have one entry each (Anna Christie, Bound East for Cardiff, Days Without End, Dynamo, Fog, More Stately Mansions, The Ancient Mariner, and Thirst), and those with none at all include Diff'rent, The First Man, Ile, Lazarus Laughed, Moon of the Caribbees, The Straw, and Where the Cross is Made. Were it not for the Newsletter, that last list would have included Dynamo, More Stately Mansions and The Ancient Mariner: each received its only treatment in these pages. The 44 items from the Newsletter include 14 in the "general" category, and from one to ten each on thirteen individual plays--ten on The Hairy Ape alone. It is heartening to see such evidence of the Newsletter's contribution--at least quantitatively--to O'Neill studies, though it is not for that reason that I urge the book's acquisition by all libraries serving programs in American drama. Its value far exceeds its boost to one editor's vanity! --Ed.

4. EUGENE O'NEILL: A DESCRIPTIVE BIBLIOGRAPHY, compiled by Jennifer McCabe Atkinson. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974. (A volume in the Pittsburgh Series in Bibliography.) xxiii + 410 pp. $45.00, cloth. ISBN 0-8229-3279-2

Though hardly a new or unknown item, Atkinson's monumental descriptive bibliography of the works of O'Neill, the first since Sanborn and Clark's in 1931 and the only "complete" one ever, certainly deserves a passing salute in the Newsletter, which wasn't around to salute it when it first appeared. How fortunate for newcomers to O'Neill studies that it is still in print. While one might wish that its coverage had grown along with its price, it remains an indispensable work, in that it provides "a history of the career of America's leading dramatist through the record of his publications"; and, except for the decade that separates it from the present, it can still fulfill its compiler's and publisher's goals--to "guide librarians and book collectors in purchasing O'Neill's works, furnish teachers and students of American drama with a history of his plays, and provide textual and bibliographical scholars with a chronology of the published O'Neill material." For individuals with those interests and concerns this is still the book to have, and bibliophiles will relish the abundant illustrations-well over a hundred--of first and rare editions, showing dust jackets, title pages, copyright notices, and comparisons of variant bindings. [Reproduced on this page are the jackets of the first American editions of The Emperor Jones (1921) and The Hairy Ape (1922), and the first of six pages of extracts from Strange Interlude--an unauthorized publication (Boston, September 1929) designed to secure clerical support for Mayor Nichols' prohibition of the play's production on the Boston stage.]

The book lists and describes--via a complex code explained in the introduction--every publication of work by O'Neill through 1974: all first editions of the plays (and important later editions) in the United States and England; published acting scripts; O'Neill material (letters, interviews, etc.) appearing for the first time in books by other authors; the same, in newspapers, periodicals and playbills; promotional blurbs by O'Neill on the work of others; O'Neill material first quoted in auction or bookdealer catalogues; O'Neill plays in collections and anthologies; and (in an appendix) adaptations of his plays by other writers for other media.

Every reader will find different causes for delight and despair. Mine included (on p. 221) information about a recent acquisition--an edition of Dynamo that uses two colors to differentiate between characters' thoughts and spoken words; and a photo (on p. 4) of the dust jacket missing from my copy of O'Neill's first book, Thirst and Other One-Act Plays (1914), even though I paid, for one copy, more than a third of what James O'Neill paid for the entire printing of 1000! But I can at least attest that the University of Pittsburgh Press has provided paper and print that are impervious to tears!

Aside from the book's necessary silence about publications since 1974 and Atkinson's indecisiveness about whether the penultimate word in the Long Day's Journey title should be capitalized (she prints it both ways in different places), Eugene O'Neill: A Descriptive Bibliography is wholeheartedly recommended. No O'Neillian bibliophiliac should be without it.




Copyright 1999-2007