THE EUGENE O'NEILL SOCIETY SECTION
I. O'NEILL SESSION AT MLA '85: a report by Paul D.
Professor Murphy's paper, "O'Neill, Belasco, and Herne: Beyond the Horizon and American Intertextuality," demonstrated the importance, to a complete understanding of O'Neill's work, of earlier American plays. As a case in point, Professor Murphy placed Beyond the Horizon into a web of "intertextuality" comprised of works by David Belasco and James A. Herne. By tracing the evolution of a structural paradigm from Henry Leslie's English play, The Mariner's Compass, through Belasco and Herne's 1879 Chums (eventually Hearts of Oak), and from Mrs. Gaskell's novel, Sylvia's Lovers, through Belasco's adaptation (eventually titled May Blossom) and Herne's Shore Acres and Sag Harbor, Professor Murphy demonstrated that the basic plot of O'Neill's play was well-known at the turn of the century. She concluded by suggesting that the success of Beyond the Horizon may have rested in part on O'Neill's alteration of a familiar theme to reflect his own personal vision of the "poet's quest" to break out of the limits imposed by contemporary American culture and its institutionalized values of love, marriage, and family.
In "Susan Glaspell and Eugene O'Neill: The Imagery of Gender" (which appears in this issue), Professor Linda Ben-Zvi argued that the influence of Glaspell and her work has too long been overlooked by O'Neill critics. Professor Ben-Zvi reviewed the evidence for the closeness of O'Neill and Glaspell and his high regard for her work, and analyzed Glaspell's "masterpiece," The Verge, as a more likely influence on The Hairy Ape than previously suggested European models. Ben-Zvi further indicated that Glaspell and O'Neill, as revealed in these two plays, present opposed images--Glaspell's, of "pioneering"; O'Neill's, of the return home--normally associated with members of the opposite sex. As a result, "they unfix the common stereotypes of male/female imagery." In closing, Ben-Zvi noted that another place to look for Glaspell's influence was Strange Interlude.
The final paper was Stephen Watt's "O'Neill and Otto Rank, The Double and Individuation," in which a strong case was made for Rankian psychoanalysis as a more valid tool for probing O'Neill's plays than Freudian theory. After establishing Rank's place in, and eventual break from, Freud's "inner circle," Professor Watt established the prominence of Rank's thought in New York in the 1920s. Without suggesting a direct link between Rank and O'Neill, Watt went on to show, using Mourning Becomes Electra, that Rank's theories of individuation, the double, and narcissism clarify O'Neill's explorations of Orin Mannon in a new way, by elevating narcissistic return to the mother over images of Oedipal murder of the father. Ultimately, Watt suggested, Rankian theory may also shed light on Reuben Light, Con Melody, Simon Harford, and Jamie Tyrone, and may finally allow us to see O'Neill "not as a poor reader of Freud, but as a writer acutely aware of alternative explanations of psychic conflict."
II. MINUTES OF SEVENTH ANNUAL MEETING, DECEMBER 28, 1985.
The Seventh Annual Meeting of The Eugene O'Neill Society was held at 7:15 p.m., December 28, 1985, in the Burnham Room of the Hyatt-Regency Hotel, Chicago. President Albert Wertheim presided.
The Minutes of the Sixth Annual Meeting as distributed in the Newsletter were approved. Reports from the Secretary and the Treasurer were presented (see items III and IV) and accepted.
Election of President, Vice-President, and five members of the Board of Directors for the 1986-1989 four-year term was held by secret ballot. However, since there were no nominations from the floor for offices of President and Vice-President, it was moved, seconded, and approved that the Secretary cast a unanimous ballot for these two positions. The ballots for Board of Directors were distributed and the membership directed to vote for up to six candidates. Among the six with highest votes, the candidate with the least votes would be named to fill the position vacated by Michael Manheim, who will serve as Vice-President.
The following are the election results:
The O'Neill Session topic for the 1986 MLA convention in New York City was announced. Chaired by Jackson R. Bryer, it will be "O'Neill: The Composition Process." Papers pertaining to O'Neill's process of writing the plays, through study of manuscripts and/or other sources, will be presented.
The 1987 session in San Francisco will be chaired by Jordan Miller. Suggestions were solicited from the membership, and at present the topic will center around O'Neill and the Orient--his influence by, interest in, and so on. The precise topic is not yet determined, but suggestions for papers are earnestly solicited now. Further information will be included in forthcoming Newsletters. Even though the deadline will not be until March 1987, the session Chair requests that all interested get in touch with him at the Department of English, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI 02881, as soon as possible.
The membership was informed that the Society will help underwrite the Boston conference on O'Neill's later years in the amount of $2000.
The following amendment to the Society by-laws was proposed:
The rationale for this amendment is based on the fact that international members in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere, have considerable difficulty with international currency exchanges and other matters, which an International Secretary can assist in handling. At present Tom Olsson, Stockholm, is International Secretary for Europe. Society member Haiping Liu, Nanjing University, People's Republic of China, has asked if the Society might consider establishing an International Secretary for the Orient, considering the strong interest in O'Neill in Asia. Therefore, the Board of Directors authorized the presentation of the above amendment for acceptance at this time by the membership and for final vote at the 1986 Annual Meeting. The amendment was approved unanimously.
The Board proposed that Mr. Liu be appointed an interim International Secretary for the Orient, pending final approval of the position next year. Unanimously approved by the membership.
Michael Hinden moved that the membership commend outgoing President Albert Wertheim for services rendered during his four-year tenure as Society President. Approved unanimously.
President Wertheim outlined the contents of the proposed Centennial Volume of essays to be published under Society aegis in 1988. The four general areas will be:
The volume will be under the general direction of Jackson R. Bryer, Albert Wertheim, and Frederick Wilkins. Professor Bryer emphasized that these areas of interest are open to wide latitude, and any person wishing to contribute in any way to the volume, even though the subject may not precisely fit these stated categories, should not hesitate to submit the idea to one of the editors.
Tom McDermott announced the start of an O'Neill Festival in Los Angeles in the fall of 1986, beginning its first season with HUGHIE, BEFORE BREAKFAST, DESIRE UNDER THE ELMS, and A TOUCH OF THE POET. He expressed hope that there might be a performance at Tao House in 1987. The hope is to make this into a permanent O'Neill festival theatre in the same manner as the Stratford and Shaw festivals in Ontario.
Tom McDermott also suggested that the Society might check AMERICAN THEATRE magazine, which lists performances around the country, and attempt to secure publicity, and possibly members, by asking that information about the Society be included in programs of productions of O'Neill plays.
Jackson Bryer spoke concerning the June 1987 program in Provincetown being planned by Adele Heller. There will be three or four days of celebration of the arts in Provincetown, with a series of panels on visual, dramatic, and other arts, with plans to stage the first plays produced by the original Provincetown Players and other attractions including walking tours of the area.
Michael Manheim also mentioned the plans for the Stockholm Strindberg-O'Neill celebration in 1988, probably in the spring.
Paul Voelker raised the question of desirability of some sort of coordination across the country in the performance of O'Neill plays during the centennial year. He felt there ought to be some effort by the Society to promote the production of plays during that year by making contact with various university and community/resident companies so that there would be a genuine national awareness of the centennial year. In the course of discussion it was suggested that there be some sort of coordination with the American Literature section of MLA, particularly at the 1988 MLA meetings. Al Wertheim suggested that ASTR might be involved. Question was raised about seeking production funds from such agencies as NEH and NEA, but those with experience in these matters pointed out that the NEH does not like to be associated with anything implying "production." If the term "production" is buried deeply enough in proposals, the NEH will sometimes make grants. Marvis Voelker mentioned the possibility of use of state funds for such grants, through state arts councils. Paul Voelker will contact the president of LORT (League of Resident Theatres) concerning some sort of coordination. All members were urged to speak to their own regional theatre groups to encourage them to participate in centennial productions. Paul Voelker was appointed by outgoing president Wertheim as the Society's liaison for O'Neill centennial activities.
Meeting adjourned at 8:15 p.m.
III. REPORT OF THE SECRETARY - 1985.
The Society closed the 1985 year with 148 members, a net gain of 4 over the 1984 membership. While we continue to lose old members at a rather alarming rate (18 during 1984), our gain of 22 helped us break even. Our international reputation continues to grow, with 19 members from 10 countries, including 5 from Japan and 2 from the People's Republic of China.
During 1985, 10 Society members chose the joint membership with the Tao House Foundation. (Interestingly enough, of the 46 who have so far rejoined for 1986, 10 have taken the joint membership already, none of them carry-overs from last year). The Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site, which supervises Tao House, joined the Society as an Institutional Member. 21 members also took advantage of the special offer on Margaret Ranald's book, The Eugene O'Neill Companion, which was sold to Society members at a substantial discount.
The Secretary investigated possibilities for substantial increases in publicity through national advertising, but took no immediate steps pending approval by the Board of the rather high costs. The Secretary also looked into the matter of the government's striking a special centennial medal, but found, through discussions with the office of his congressional representative, that it would literally take an act of Congress to do so--a long and probably fruitless undertaking.
As the Treasurer's report indicates, we are in excellent financial shape. All we need now is members. --JYM.
IV. REPORT OF THE TREASURER, 1985.
Submitted by Virginia Floyd, Treasurer.
V. A NOTE FROM THE PRESIDENT.
This is not an inaugural address: the editor wouldn't allow me space for one of those, and besides, I greatly prefer valedictories to introductories. But I did want to say how honored I am to have been entrusted with the position of helmsperson for the next two years. My predecessors--Horst Frenz, Winifred Frazer and Albert Wertheim--have established a strong and flourishing organization, and I will do all I can to keep it that way and to further the realization of the founders' dreams.
The years ahead should be particularly exciting ones--a fact, I hasten to add, that has nothing to do with who is president. Interest in O'Neill and the Society is burgeoning around the world, particularly in the Orient; and one of our immediate goals must be to assure harmony and cooperation among the Society's widespread membership and see that all are equally represented. This may well mean meetings in other countries as well as in the United States--without, of course, severing our important link with the Modern Language Association--and also, perhaps, the establishment of regional divisions that could periodically hold meetings on their own. The appointment of two international secretaries is an important step in the right direction, and I hope that the Asian and European members who attend the May conference in Boston will have time to pool their ideas about what additional steps might appropriately follow.
Another important link that we should attempt to strengthen is the one between O'Neill's scholarly and theatrical constituencies. Both should be equally represented if the Society's goals are to be accomplished. This is particularly true in the immediate future, as we approach the centennial of O'Neill's birth in 1988. Hence the importance of Paul Voelker's appointment (mentioned in the minutes above) as Society liaison for centennial activities. More on that in the future, but I hope that any member who is involved already in any centennial plans, or who has an interest in becoming involved, will contact Paul at the Department of English, University of Wisconsin Center-Richland, Richland Center, WI 53581.
The editor says that my time is up, so I will close, with thanks to the membership and a promise to try to prove worthy of your confidence. --FCW.
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