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EUGENE O'NEILL: THE FACE AND THE MASK LEON EDEL "l X ~EN Mr. Eugene O'Neill last November V V , ~ceived the Nobel priz~ for l},terature, he' , modestly remarked that It was a symbol of the coming of age of the American theatre," thus dividing the honours with his can temporaries, many of whom no longer considered him artistically con temporaneous: For there has been in recent dramatic literature no more in teresting example of an early flowering and-though the point is dispu table-a prem'ature fading: the explosion of a dynamic force that spen t itself within its decade. There is ample justification for seeing in the awarding of the Nobel prize a belated crowning of Eugene Q'Neill's early promise rather than of his later'and,grosser success. The prize consecrates his historic position in the American theatre, bu t is capable of exaggerating his importance to the drama ~f the 1930's. In a word, if in O'Neill the American theatre came of age, it is going on to maturi ty in other hands. This means that Mr. O~Neill has failed to go on, though perhaps only for the moment. He is still this side of fifty, and holds the promise of many plays to come. Bernard Shaw, at fifty, stood at the threshold of his dram'atic career, and he had passed his seven tieth birthday before he became a laureate of the Swedish Academy. The history of literature and the theatre is full of {Ilater manners" and {{final periods." Who knows but that O'Neill, desplte the app'arent finality of the body of his work, may have in reserve some later, some third period'? for such 'a period, if we are to take ac·ademic·measure18 O'NEILL: THE FACE AND THE MASK plays of second, those of inner struggle; the first ready experience, fruit of a "periods" Among '1S an t in r ...""('.,..."",,, success, leisure) and ease. These no means a water-tight classification. are the even as among return to the earlier by The 1n I can as a post on roadway that leads from the O'Neill of the sea plays to the O'Neill Strange Interlude and Mourning Becomes who changed when they changed personalities} the adventurer, has put on the mask of O'Neill, . . ten years have ,elapsed, and he has not removed it. The has recounted it himself, nor need one books It leaps you which O'Neill tramped to the various to it. of In the its , boon companions, sleeplessness and starvation. The son of an actor) O'Neill had in his 'blood, and the lust of a wanderer} for his father had 19 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY wandered up and down and across the United States playing a stage version of The Count oj Monte Cristo. One can almost visualize Eugene, young and earnest, his chin firmly set, watching his father plunge his hands into the treasure and shout, "The world is mine!" and deciding then and there to seek out that world and its treasure. He found instead' the loneliness of sky and sea, the foul smells and wretched food aboard cattle-boats, the griminess and sweat of the stoke-hole, the ever-present threat of starvation during weeks ashore and the squalor and despair of the waterfronts. In the mind of a boy not yet twenty, these experiences must have been extremely vivid: but they do not seem to have imprinted themselves indelibly on his mind. One experience was effaced by another: he remained, apparently, a spectator rather than a participant, too immature for profound reflection and too volatile for serious participation. After some years of this varied hard living there came a breakdown and a sojourn in a sanatorium, during which, O'Neill tells us, he decided to write. He had ready experience to dra\~ , upon, and the dramatic form had ever I)een before him. And yet the period of apprenticeship was long. He fumbled 'at first, writing plays and , destroying them. He read avidly, seeking to grasp the dramatic forms of his predecessors, Ibsen and Strindberg, and he taugh t himself German over...


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