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Reviews489 excess—"the dragnet of murder which gathers in the characters at the close of this play [Women Beware Women] is as promiscuous in its sweep as that cast by Cyril Tourneur over the internecine shoal of sharks who are hauled in and ripped open at the close of The Revenger 's Tragedy" (p. 173)—a genuine power of critical observation. EJNER J. JENSEN University of Michigan Doris Alexander. Eugene O'Neill's Creative Struggle: The Decisive Decade, 1924-1933. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992. Pp. 339. $29.95. Three decades after publishing The Tempering of Eugene O'Neill, Doris Alexander has revisited her subject to produce a thoroughly engrossing study of the process by which O'Neill worked life experience into art in order to manage his own most pressing problems. This ambitious book aims not only to identify new source material for the plays (which it does in copious detail) but also to reveal how the artist's unconscious screened such material and molded it to dramatic form. The result is a highly readable narrative, part fact, part fancy, that will stimulate the scholar and generalist alike. Alexander locates changes that took place in O'Neill's life shortly after the completion of a particular play; then she reads the play as a strategy for resolving the situation that engendered it. Fortunately, the author brings to this enterprise a seasoned acquaintance with the playwright 's habits of thought, which allows her to leaven an essentially mechanistic approach with intuition. For her scope she selects the nine plays that O'Neill completed between 1924 and 1933: Desire Under the Elms, Marco Millions, The Great God Brown, Lazarus Laughed, Strange Interlude, Dynamo, Mourning Becomes Electra, Ah, Wilderness ! and Days Without End. The author reads these plays as a maturation sequence beginning with O'Neill's longing to join his recently dead mother in the grave and ending with his coming to terms with the loss of both parents and his renunciation of God-hunting, which animates the intervening plays. In 1924 O'Neill broke off writing Marco Millions, which he had begun with the final funeral scene of Princess Kukachin. According to Alexander, he did so because the grief that was propelling his play demanded wider scope. O'Neill, struggling with the loss of his mother, felt the need to engage in extended mourning: he then began Desire Under the Elms, a play permeated by a young man's grief for his deceased mother. In life, Alexander suggests, O'Neill followed the lead of his mourning character: in Desire Under the Elms, Eben Cabot blends his grief with love for Abbie Putnam, just as O'Neill submerged his own grief in his love for Agnes ("Aggie") Boulton. Several years 490Comparative Drama later when that relationship foundered, O'Neill again used the vehicle of drama to resolve a personal conflict. We are told that while O'Neill consciously struggled to preserve his marriage, unconsciously he undermined it in the writing of Strange Interlude, which dissects a love affair gone sour and a marriage based on falsehood. A year after the play's completion, O'Neill summoned the courage to ask Agnes for a divorce. Alexander argues that this pattern of working through a problem in a play and then incorporating the solution in action was typical of O'Neill's behavior during the decade. Succeeding chapters provide additional illustrations. The approach works reasonably well at the "macro" level; that is to say, the hypothesis regarding O'Neill's use of the creative act to solve his personal dilemmas is persuasive. The method works reasonably well at the "micro" level, too. The author's speculations about O'Neill's unconscious selection of names for characters in his plays can be quite captivating. But the method falters at the middle focal length when Alexander attempts to reconstruct the inner workings of O'Neill's creative process. The following excerpt characterizes her use of evidence. We learn that O'Neill was reading a book about Marco Polo by Sir Henry Yule as he prepared to return to work on his manuscript of Marco Millions. There appears in this book a lengthy footnote...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 489-491
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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