- Editor’s Foreword
Academic journals originated as extensions of the academic societies that began forming as early as the seventeenth century to give collective strength to those who would define the Enlightenment in practical terms. Over the next three centuries, academic societies and their journals proliferated, attaining enormous prestige, but only gradually did the journals become vehicles for reporting new research, and only gradually did they become available to those who were not society members. Many journals, especially in the sciences, concentrated on increasingly specialized work at the forefront of research, with results that might be intelligible only to a few. But some journals began to speak to a larger, ultimately global community of scholars and address issues of broad interest. This development was especially important in the humanities, where romantic, Victorian, and modernist ideas suggested a deeply integrated vision of the larger topics to which all studies might be seen to contribute: humanity, the liberal arts, the university at large.
Recently, academic societies in the humanities have lost some of their centrality and in some cases have disappeared altogether, along with the journals. The Internet has become more of a factor in the humanities, and aggressively so in the sciences and social sciences, where many academics are on the verge of revolution against current publishing practices. In the humanities, where the profits of research are less accountable in the way that matters to Wall Street, the importance of making that effort to bring scholars from around the world into a high-level discussion of a topic like Eugene O’Neill becomes greater than ever. Sustaining that discussion depends on the voluntarily contributed time and energy of its members to keep the doors open and the lines of communication clear, so that scholars, students, theater artists, and enthusiasts can participate in a discussion of deep questions and extraordinary achievements. [End Page V]
For nearly forty years now, the Eugene O’Neill Society has served exactly that purpose, and instrumental among its cofounders was Dr. Frederick C. Wilkins, who stepped up, following an MLA panel he had organized for a discussion of the currency of O’Neill’s plays, to collect the various presentations and send them out in the form of a mimeographed “newsletter.” It takes just such an impulse—organizing, transcribing, circulating—to form the nidus (an originating place, from the Latin for “nest”) from which grew the Society, its Newsletter, its Review, its regular rhythm of panels at major academic meetings, and its eight international conferences with a ninth in the planning stages. Combined with the work of the Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Monte Cristo Cottage, and the many university and private collections of O’Neilliana, including eOneill.com, the community of interest in O’Neill is vast and vigorous. Much credit goes to Fred Wilkins for bringing that about.
That first issue of the Newsletter, no doubt run off on the Suffolk English Department’s mimeo machine, was called a “Preview Issue,” because Fred already saw the possibility of a regular issue, and volume 1, number 1 came out in May 1977, with Fred identifying himself as its “perpetrator.” Neatly typed, stapled together by Fred himself, that issue began a steady move toward a more and more polished and professional-looking publication, till in the early 1980s it appeared as a folio booklet of some sixty pages, sent out three times a year, or “thrice-ennial,” as he playfully termed it. Reviews of books and plays, summaries of conference presentations, news about the Society and its members came from a wide range of O’Neillians, veterans and novices, literati and theatricians, domestic and foreign, all welcomed and guided by the gentle hand of Fred Wilkins, who was perhaps the liveliest contributor of all. As a writer of reviews and articles, as a monitor of the theater and the newspapers and the libraries, and above all as an editor, he saw to it that the Society spoke to the society.
Those years leading up to 1988, the O’Neill centennial, were alive with many projects coming together to do that uncharacteristic thing in America—treat the great dramas of the American past as a legacy...