Perverse Mind: Eugene O'Neill's Struggle with Closure

Perverse Mind: Eugene O'Neill's Struggle with Closure

Perverse Mind: Eugene O'Neill's Struggle with Closure

Perverse Mind: Eugene O'Neill's Struggle with Closure

Synopsis

"The vast difference in the quality of the plays written by Eugene O'Neill during his thirty-year career as a dramatist (1913-43) has evoked considerable wonder among critics. The fact is, nothing in O'Neill's forty-five theatrical endeavors of varying merit prior to 1939 suggests the unmistakable touch of genius which radiates from his last plays - A Touch of the Poet (1939), The Iceman Cometh (1940), Long Day's Journey into Night (1941), Hughie (1942), and A Moon for the Misbegotten (1943). At least one valid explanation for this phenomenon is the greatly improved endings of the late plays. To date no one has attempted to account for the disparity in quality between O'Neill's earlier and late work by means of a thorough examination of his play-endings. In "Perverse Mind" author Barbara Voglino performs this long-neglected function concerning the work of the artist considered by many to be America's foremost dramatist by studying nine plays - three from approximately each decade of O'Neill's career - in the light of contemporary closure theories." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—”

Through the Looking-Glass

“To approach fiction by way of closure is not… at all narrow,” Marianna Torgovnick observes in her study of novelistic closure. In drama, also, the examination of closure extends to such wide-ranging subjects as structural patterns, which include peripeteia and circularity; thematic implications and ideas; verbal and gestural devices; character analyses; and even relevant extratextual material concerning the author and his culture.

Because of the scope involved in studying closure, even when concentrated on selected plays from the three-volume output of Eugene O’Neill (which includes fifty plays of varying lengths), I shall attempt to define my subject further in several ways. First, I will be dealing—with the exception of occasional references to the formidable fragment, More Stately Mansions— primarily with the completed plays, as they appear in the 1988 three-volume, Library of America edition (which includes Mansions [“the unexpurgated edition”]). My study therefore excludes most of the unrealized plays of O’Neill’s projected “A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed” cycle, and, for the most part, the various drafts that exist for some plays (eight for Days without End, according to Travis Bogard, and five versions of Hickey’s exit in The Iceman Cometh, according to Judith E. Barlow). Rather I shall attempt to focus upon what O’Neill himself wished to present as finished work. Second, since it is neither necessary nor feasible to examine all fifty plays in order to perceive O’Neill’s gradual evolution toward effective closure, I shall be concentrating on nine plays selected for their relevance to closure rather than for their overall quality. Thus I devote a chapter to two of O’Neill’s less commendable efforts, Dynamo and Days without End, while omitting, for example, the far finer Ah, Wilderness! and A Touch of the Poet. I have also tried to include plays from approximately each decade of O’Neill’s . . .

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