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Another Part of a Long Story

Literary Traces of Eugene O'Neill and Agnes Boulton

William Davies King

Publication Year: 2010

An engrossing biography about the marital breakdown of a major literary figure, of particular interest for what it reveals about O'Neill's creative process, activities, and bohemian lifestyle at the time of his early successes and some of his most interesting experimental work. In addition, King's discussion of Boulton's efforts as a writer of pulp fiction in the early part of the 20th century reveals an interesting side of popular fiction writing at that time, and gives insight into the lifestyle of the liberated woman. ---Stephen Wilmer, Trinity College, Dublin Biographers of American playwright Eugene O'Neill have been quick to label his marriage to actress Carlotta Monterey as the defining relationship of his illustrious career. But in doing so, they overlook the woman whom Monterey replaced---Agnes Boulton, O'Neill's wife of over a decade and mother to two of his children. O'Neill and Boulton were wed in 1918---a time when she was a successful pulp novelist and he was still a little-known writer of one-act plays. During the decade of their marriage, he gained fame as a Broadway dramatist who rejected commercial compromise, while she mapped that contentious territory known as the literary marriage. His writing reflected her, and hers reflected him, as they tried to realize progressive ideas about what a marriage should be. But after O'Neill left the marriage, he and new love Carlotta Monterey worked diligently to put Boulton out of sight and mind---and most O'Neill biographers have been quick to follow suit. William Davies King has brought Agnes Boulton to light again, providing new perspectives on America's foremost dramatist, the dynamics of a literary marriage, and the story of a woman struggling to define herself in the early twentieth century. King shows how the configuration of O'Neill and Boulton's marriage helps unlock many of O'Neill's plays. Drawing on more than sixty of Boulton's published and unpublished writings, including her 1958 memoir, Part of a Long Story, and an extensive correspondence, King rescues Boulton from literary oblivion while offering the most radical revisionary reading of the work of Eugene O'Neill in a generation. William Davies King is Professor of Theater at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of several books, most recently Collections of Nothing, chosen by Amazon.com as one of the Best Books of 2008. Illustration: Eugene O'Neill, Shane O'Neill, and Agnes Boulton ca. 1923. Eugene O'Neill Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xix

(Note: Reference is made here only to writings discussed in this book.) 1888 Birth in New York City of Eugene Gladstone O’Neill (EO), third son of James O’Neill (1846–1920) and Ella Quinlan O’Neill (1857–1922). Brothers: James “Jamie” O’Neill, Jr. (1878–1923), Edmund O’Neill (1883–1885). EO receives education in a variety of private schools, ending with one year at Princeton University (1906–7). 1892 Birth in London of Agnes Ruby Boulton (AB), eldest daughter of Edward W. Boulton (1868–1927) and Cecil Maud Williams Boulton (1869–1951).

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pp. 1-23

In 1958, Agnes Boulton published Part of a Long Story, a memoir of the first two years of her marriage to Eugene O’Neill, which extended from 1918 to 1929. At its beginning, he was on the verge of becoming the most important American dramatist of his generation, and some would say of all American theater history. She was a writer, too, a storyteller, then at the...

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1. Early Stories of Boulton

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pp. 24-50

At the time of Agnes Boulton’s birth, her parents were on a yearlong visit to England, where they both had relatives.1 Edward W. Boulton and Cecil Williams had met about 1890 in Philadelphia, married within a year, then traveled to England, where Agnes was born, most likely on September 19,1892, but the family would soon return to their home in Philadelphia.2...

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2. Boulton’s Early Stories I: New Woman

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pp. 51-77

By the time she met O’Neill, Agnes Boulton’s name had appeared often enough in big, black letters at the top of the page that she could be said to have established herself as a brand name.1 An advertisement in a magazine one month might promise a new novelette by her, and the reader would presumably know to expect a story that would match her earlier...

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3. Boulton’s Early Stories II: Marriage/License

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pp. 78-98

Not a single story by Agnes Boulton has ever been quoted, described, or even mentioned in any of the critical or biographical writings about O’Neill.1 Her story writing has figured, if at all, only as a general reminder of the monolithic mass of commercial writing, the stuff that O’Neill was determined not to write. O’Neill scholarship has always operated from...

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4. Traces of Marriage: Provincetown

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pp. 99-111

Love letters, the dedication of a book, an autobiographical play or story, an angry note, divorce papers, a nostalgic memoir: the accumulation of all these documents becomes the map of a marriage, a device by which certain things seem to be known, such as when and where love was formed, how proximity and distance developed, and why the thin blue lines,...

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5. Traces of Marriage: Ridgefield

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pp. 112-135

The Provincetown Players were breaking apart in the middle of 1922, and so O’Neill had to become more involved in matters of production in order to get The Hairy Ape and other projects on the stage. His mother died unexpectedly on February 28 in California, just before the opening of The Hairy Ape, and Gene at once began drinking heavily again, as did Jamie. When...

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6. Traces of Marriage: Bermuda

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pp. 136-147

After spending the summer of 1924 in Provincetown and Nantucket, O’Neill and Boulton returned to Connecticut, only to decide that they would explore the possibility of soon moving to Bermuda. They sailed there in November, staying in rented cottages in Paget Parish. They moved from the cottages to a house called Southcote, where Oona was...

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7. Traces of Separation

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pp. 148-175

Back in Bermuda in 1926, Gene began work on Strange Interlude, the play that would represent his most concerted attempt to write a play not about himself—a play about a woman, part Agnes, part Carlotta, part Louise Bryant. They resolved to sell the house in Connecticut and bought the old house called Spithead, on the other side of the island. Much renovation...

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8. Divorce Papers

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pp. 176-207

Liberty. Agnes must have gotten a chuckle out of the fact that her first short story to be published after her marriage to Gene ended came out in Liberty, a features and diversions magazine. Her biographical profile is featured prominently, just below the story’s title: “En Route: The Story of a Game of Guile.” We see her face, in profile, in a tight-fitting cloche,...

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9. "A Great Hush of Non-Being”

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pp. 208-234

This poem was transcribed by Louis Sheaffer, from a manuscript, which was probably lost among the papers disposed of after Agnes’s death. The transcriber’s queries about some of its holographic mysteries nicely reflect the aspect of Boulton that lay beyond clear expression, a somewhat chaotic grasping after O’Neill—the mythic figure—and an aversion to Gene—the mortal figure...

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Epilogue: Writing the End

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pp. 235-239

Biography in its infancy performed a progressive, humanistic ceremony, based on the power of a name, a pair of dates, key events and actions, and at the end life went on a little better, which was the point. Life was sanctified, and especially the lives of saints. A biographer would align the dates and conform the themes, highlight the truly miraculous, never split an infinitive...

Abbreviations Used in the Notes

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pp. 240


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pp. 241-277


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pp. 279-292


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pp. 293-299

E-ISBN-13: 9780472027057
E-ISBN-10: 0472027050
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117178
Print-ISBN-10: 0472117173

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 13 B&W Photos
Publication Year: 2010