I have an undergraduate degree in theatre and am familiar with the works of Eugene O’Neill, having read or seen (or both) most of his body of works. I was only passingly familiar with O’Neill the man, the writer, from brief bios in college text books.
Author Robert M. Dowling has done an exhaustive amount of research to give us a deep understanding of the man, Eugene O’Neill, and understanding the man provides insight to the works.
Dowling gives us O’Neill in a straight-forward presentation, and although I presume he has respect or deep appreciation for O’Neill, manages to keep his personal thoughts out of the writing. There are times, especially early in the book, when this comes across as dry academic writing and it takes some patience to keep going, but the further we get in the more I appreciated the style.
O’Neill the playwright defined an era. When his play Long Day’s Journey Into Night had its world premiere in Sweden, the critics wrote that O’Neill was (according to Dowling’s postscript), “the world’s last dramatist of the stature of Aeschylus and Shakespeare.” I may not go quite that far but I respect the way he raised the bar in modern drama.
Like so many writers of this past era – especially those who brought forward deep themes – O’Neill had his demons. How much those demons affected his writing or how much his writing created the demons can only be guessed at and debated by scholars and students, but books like this are important tools for those who really want to understand the man and his work.
Looking for a good book? The biography Eugene O’Neill by Robert M. Dowling is an important scholarly work and should be required reading for any theatre or English student.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts
author: Robert M. Dowling
publisher: Yale University Press
hardcover, 584 pages