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Martha Gilman Bower has argued that Carlotta (who often called O’Neill “the Master”) was indispensable to the creation of all of O’Neill’s late plays. In a comparison of Gene’s marriages to Agnes and to Carlotta, she proposes a Lacanian argument to account for the difference in their roles as other, namely that Agnes asserted herself as subject, while Carlotta provided the appropriately blank mirroring surface, “that complementary part of himself that he was compelled to both love and hate with an intensity great enough to sustain and nourish his creative powers.”21 Bower argues that Gene was unable to view Carlotta in any role other than the maternal one, citing the words he spoke shortly before his death, when Gene said, “You’re my Mama now.”22 Although Carlotta denied it at the time and attempted to assert her name, her role as the nurturing “all other” leads Bower to consider her a specific collaborator in the creation of such a reflective, self-generative play as Long Day’s Journey. Judith Barlow proposes Carlotta as a model for Mary Tyrone, noting many parallels, while Carlotta herself admitted no parallels, instead seeing herself as the mother figure O’Neill had never had. In Barlow’s view, Long Day’s Journey became Carlotta’s play, too, because it seemed like the vindication of all measures she had taken to rescue O’Neill from such a hostile background and to protect and nurture him as he needed: “To her the play represented a ‘hell’ from which she alone had rescued him.”23 Carlotta seems to have developed an opinion of herself as an instrumental , co-creative figure in Gene’s writing as early as the first year of their relationship , at the time when he was completing Dynamo, a play that failed badly in its time (1929) but has subsequently been interpreted as an important precursor to Long Day’s Journey. In a 1928 letter that was possibly not available to either Bower or Barlow at the time when they were writing , Carlotta wrote to Saxe Commins: I—too—am alive with “Dynamo”—but Gene [is] at the stage of wondering if it is rotten or what not! A perfectly healthy reaction at this stage for the Creator! I understand & soothe——! This Lover of mine is also my child—& living beside him thro’ Fire & Beauty has greatly developed & enriched the inner me—so that he will get back—thro’ that—greater love & understanding from me—thro’ our love!”24 It turns out that what O’Neill was writing was “rotten or what not!” but the romantic miracle nevertheless seemed to take place, which was the replacement of the limited, earthly Agnes by the infinite, eternal Carlotta. Introduction • 13 By 1932 O’Neill would inscribe Mourning Becomes Electra to her as “mother, and wife and mistress and friend!—/ And collaborator! Collaborator , I love you!”25 Except in a few instances, Gene did not see in Agnes a collaborator. Instead, they sought what was soon to be called a “companionate marriage ,” a nonhierarchical marriage of partners who looked for emotional and sexual compatibility and fulfillment from each other in ways not in conflict with individual self-fulfillment. Both perceived from the start that this ideal would prove impossible to obtain. Both had strong egoistic demands to make of the other partner, due to residual problems from their birth families. Both had competing demands on their time and energy. For Gene, his developing dramatic career dominated his attention, all the more so because a sense of spiritual quest often took precedence over the more usual aspirations: fame, money, power. For Agnes, there was initially her writing to attend to, which meant working the commercial publishing mechanism, but soon the birth of Shane led her to fix on the creation of a home as her mission. Agnes evidently did not maintain a fixed sense of purpose during the years of the marriage, but she was partly to blame for the fact that the marriage was not centered on emotional intercourse with Gene, as the ideal of the companionate marriage would have it. Both coped with the distracting power of alcohol. They also struggled to make sense of the liberating social trends of the period, many of which were openly individualistic and not conducive to the founding of marriage on an emotional bond. Then, too, however progressive the period might have been in certain respects, the break with Victorian values was hardly complete in...


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MARC Record
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