Eugene O`Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy

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9780300076769: Eugene O`Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy

Within little more than three years of the opening of his first successful play on Broadway, Eugene O'Neill endured the deaths of his father, mother, and brother. These devastating losses plunged the young playwright into a period of guilt and profound mourning that consumed two decades of his life. In this enlightening critical biography, deeply informed by the insights of psychoanalysis, Stephen Black presents a new understanding of Eugene O'Neill's life (1888-1953), from his troubled childhood and adolescence through a glacially slow period of mourning for his family to his ultimate emergence from the preoccupation with grief and loss that had pervaded his life and his writings. Black argues that O'Neill consciously and deliberately used playwriting as a medium of self-psychoanalysis—an endeavor that led to the creation of some of the finest American plays ever written and, eventually, to a successful therapeutic outcome.
Through close analysis of O'Neill's plays and literary writings, some five thousand surviving letters, other personal documents, and accounts of people who knew him, Black reaches new conclusions about important aspects of the playwright's life and work. He follows the slow course of O'Neill's mourning by studying the many grieving characters in O'Neill's plays, and when at last the playwright accepts his losses and moves on, his characters do likewise. The changed tone and form of O'Neill's final plays, including Hughie and A Moon for the Misbegotten, reflect the playwright's psychological and artistic growth and his hard-won victory over mourning and tragedy.

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About the Author:

Stephen A. Black is professor of English at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia, and a trained psychoanalytic therapist.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Mourning may become Electra, but it served equally well for O'Neill, who, as Black (English/Simon Fraser Univ.) contends in this massive biography, worked through his personal tragedies by recasting them for the stage. Beginning before O'Neill's birth, Black adumbrates the troubles of the young marrieds who brought the playwright into this harsh world and then delineates the misfortunes which struck O'Neill at an early age. After he survived the problems of a morphine-addicted mother and schoolyard politics, the adversities of childhood gave way to traumas of adulthood. Death overshadowed O'Neill's life: Within a period of six years, he witnessed the death of five friends (three of whom committed suicide). Within three years of his first Broadway success, O'Neill's entire familymother Ella, father James, and brother Jamiedied. A scandalous divorce and subsequent remarriage offered little respite from his turbulent life and times, and physical affliction in the form of muscle tremors tormented him in later life. Through subtle readings of O'Neill's plays and extensive research into his life and letters, Black explores how these monstrous losses ravaged O'Neill's psyche and how the playwright's mourning perversely inspired his creative processes. Blacks structure sometimes groans even more loudly than his hero, as diagnoses are swept in to stand alone rather than woven into the thread of the narrative, and pedantic explanations of such common terms as ``separation anxiety, better buried in footnotes, disrupt the biographical flow. Despite such minor flaws, however, the writing at its best is as straightforward as it is informative, presenting ONeills sadly heroic tale with welcome grace. Though completing this massive tome may require several long days' journeys into night at the library, the destination is more than adequate recompense. O'Neill proves a fascinating, if morbid, traveling companion, and Black a capable and erudite cicerone. (40 illus.) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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