Another Part of a Long Story
Literary Traces of Eugene O'Neill and Agnes Boulton
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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(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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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...
1. Early Stories of Boulton
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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...
2. Boulton’s Early Stories I: New Woman
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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...
3. Boulton’s Early Stories II: Marriage/License
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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...
4. Traces of Marriage: Provincetown
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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,...
5. Traces of Marriage: Ridgefield
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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...
6. Traces of Marriage: Bermuda
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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...
7. Traces of Separation
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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...
8. Divorce Papers
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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,...
9. "A Great Hush of Non-Being”
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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...
Epilogue: Writing the End
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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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Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 13 B&W Photos
Publication Year: 2010