cover image Selected Letters of Eugene Oneill

Selected Letters of Eugene Oneill

Eugene Gladstone O'Neill. Yale University Press, $75 (800pp) ISBN 978-0-300-04374-7

Perhaps the most surprising feature of this selection from O'Neill's voluminous correspondence, being published on the centenary of his birth, is that a writer with so intensely private an inner world should have poured so much exuberant imagination into his letters to relatives and friends. Divided into chronological sections, each preceded with a useful biographical essay, the letters span some 50 years. There is the voracious reader, budding playwright and ardent romantic; the mature artist in the full flood of his creativity; and finally the Nobel laureate beset by illness and family tragedy. We see O'Neill pouring out his feelings to his three wives (love turning to hatred in the case of the second), storming at his grown children, answering his critics, battling the tax collector, strivingnot always successfullyto keep his inner and outer lives in balance. The letters abound in observation, irony, vitality and insights into the mind and heart of America's premier playwright. They also provide a salutary corrective to the gloomy O'Neill of legend. Bogard is professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, Bryer is a professor at the University of Maryland. Photos. (Oct.)