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Ballantine entangles with the fact that Agnes’s father, Teddy, was a painter, still alive, a benevolent but impotent figure, in juxtaposition to James O’Neill, a potent father whom Gene had been taught (by Jamie) to despise but whom he had more recently come to admire and even emulate , up to his death in 1920. The Eakins portrait of Teddy, proudly hung over the mantelpiece, perhaps testified (in Gene’s eyes) to a divided loyalty on her part.53 Gene’s mother was seen as the helpless one in his family drama, while Agnes’s mother was a figure of strength, but Ella O’Neill was dead by 1922, while Cecil Boulton lived on. Agnes’s sister, Cecil, was an artist, married to Eddie Fisk, a painter and friend of Charles Demuth, while her other sisters, Margery and Barbara, as well as her mother, toyed with the idea of being writers. Meanwhile, Jamie O’Neill was dead by his own drinking by 1923. So, Agnes’s family had prospects, however dim, while Gene’s had doom. The work of mourning began in a condition of jealousy on that level. It is very difficult to assign a date to the incident of the destroyed Eakins painting, since the period November 1918 through May 1919, when Gene and Agnes were living in Old House, preceded the birth of Shane, and I have found no record of their staying there for an extended period after that, although it is possible they were there in November 1921. Then, too, I have located no independent record of such a painting by Eakins, despite the fact that Boulton mentions the painting was well known and frequently on loan.54 Boulton’s memory of fact has often been questioned, and here we have the additional layer of Wylie’s unreliable retelling in his unpublished and inadequate introduction to the proposed volume of O’Neill-Boulton letters. The story has no other source, and the same must be said of the following story, which is an extraordinary counterpart to the anecdote of Gene destroying her father’s portrait. Again, the problematic relay for this anecdote is Max Wylie, who tells us that Agnes told him that in 1923, when O’Neill was working on Desire Under the Elms, she had set out in secret to write a novel, her first long book.55 O’Neill’s Work Diary clearly states that he got the idea for Desire on January 1, 1924. Nevertheless, Wylie writes: Agnes understood painters and painting, the Boulton girls having been brought up in the milieu, and her story was given a setting of artists, a subject on which she could speak with familiarity, even some authority. She wanted to finish her novel before her husband saw any of it; perhaps even to have it published, then to give him the Traces of Marriage: Ridge‹eld • 125 first copy, for it was to be (and was becoming, day by day) their own love story. Late one evening, Agnes returned to Ridgefield from visiting her sisters in New York, only to find that Gene was still awake and raging drunk: Then the horrible thing happened. After a lot of unprovoked abuse, he suddenly snatched up a large stack of papers and flung them into the fire. And she knew what he was doing to her: he was burning up her novel! She fought and screamed, but he was too strong for her. He held her until it seemed quite consumed. Then he left. Agnes managed to rescue only a few charred pages from the novel, but essentially, “the love story of the O’Neills went down the ash pit at Brook Farm.”56 Wylie’s interpretation of this act is that O’Neill was jealous that Boulton was doing what he could not, that is, writing a novel, just as he had been jealous at the thought that she might be successful in writing for the movies. I remember reading Wylie’s retelling of this story with a sense of nausea that a literary trace so close to the core of my own book was lost forever , and then, a few minutes later, I opened another folder in the Wylie Collection and found two pages of the novel, charred just as Wylie had said. In the readable portion, a man named Edwin is enjoying the fresh atmosphere of spring as he walks through the city. He is too shy to do more than smile at...


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