IT HATH MADE US MAD:
IT HATH MADE US MAD:
Take our advice and read Nicholas Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness. For bibliophiles and curiosity seekers it is a marvelous find. If you do, you’ll meet, among the many bibliomaniacs committed to collecting at any cost, the crème de la crème of eccentrics, Stephen Blumberg, whose passion for books led him to the best university collections coast to coast— Duke, Harvard, USC, Dartmouth—where he added to his personal holdings by subtracting from theirs. But lest you think Blumberg visited only Ivy League collections, it should be noted that he was egalitarian in his thievery, stealing from public libraries as well for over two decades, nineteen tons of books, 23,600, from 268 libraries, in 45 states, two Canadian provinces and the District of Columbia (465-67)—and with such adeptness that most locations never knew they had been ripped off. He was eventually collared, you’ll be relieved to know, but under what circumstances, we’ll leave it for you to investigate.
So what, you ask, has this got to do with Eugene O’Neill and bibliography? The answer lies tangentially in the motive behind Blumberg’s “borrowings.” When his “holdings” as we’ll call them were disbanded, our “collector” bemoaned the end of his 20-year career: he had not, he groused, stolen for profit nor personal acclaim. Certainly not. Blumberg distinguished his pilfering from the thefts of others by pointing to his addiction, bibliomania—a passion which, Basbanes explains and we will offer no dispute, borders on madness.
And now to O’Neill. When we read Basbanes’ book we felt a twinge of sympathy for Blumberg and his like, for we too have been engaged in a long-lived search (though only about 15 years in our case): to uncover and annotate every book, article and dissertation written in English on our subject from 1973 on; to list every foreign article in this time period; to include every production of an O’Neill play, foreign and domestic; to catalog any miscellany (plays about O’Neill, poems dedicated to him or to his wife or to his dog), etc. In other words to unearth and identify every scrap of O’Neilliana since Jordan Miller’s incomparable Eugene O’Neill and the American Critic—and thus become Miller’s worthy successors. A noble pursuit, we hope you will agree. But one that has come at great cost—for these two erstwhile gentle academicians have been driven to the brink in this endeavor. Here’s why and here’s what we uncovered.
First, to establish our bona fides. In 1988, we published Eugene O’Neill: An Annotated Bibliography, 1973-1985 (Garland, 1988), for which we had read/perused approximately 630 items—articles, books or parts of books, and dissertations. We included a listing of foreign language articles and books— approximately 100 items in all. Finally, there was a miscellaneous section—adaptations, films and audio-visuals, translations, etc., editions of O’Neill’s plays. Are you still awake?
Jordan Miller’s bibliography covered O’Neill from ground zero, 1922, to 1972. What would our survey of O’Neill, covering only a dozen years, show when compared with his, covering half a century? We found that in less than a quarter of the time the more modern scholarship had produced more articles, more books, more dissertations than before. In addition, newer bibliographical resources not available to Miller gave us access to foreign publications, which we were also able to include. And we could assert that there had been at least 270 English language O’Neill productions in that same 12-year period. Unquestionably, general interest in O’Neill as well as scholarship had soared.
So happy were we with the book’s success that we decided to produce an exciting sequel to cover the rest of the century—1986 through 1999. Had interest in O’Neill flagged? To save you the soporific effect of number crunching, we’ll summarize in a sentence. The figures for both periods are almost an exact match. In effect, O’Neill madness runs apace.
Enter our publisher—also an O’Neillian—who decided he didn’t want to produce a bibliography for only the years 1986 to 1999, so he/we gathered together both our earlier bibliography and the new one into a single and freshly integrated (oh, Lord!) volume.
The result? Books, parts of books, dissertations, articles—since 1973 there have been published in English over 700 articles—just articles, mind you. And who, do you imagine, tops the list of “damned scribbling” scholars? Sorry to report, not us. And of course that depends on whether you include reprints: one two-page note was published three times (at least?) under different titles (is a rose still a rose?), no indication of duplication (duplicity?) or triplication (triplicity?). We think the author got too much mileage out of that one, so we, just between us, credit him with only one publication—though all three items, of course, have entries in the book. But the real honors clearly go, not to an American, but to an Hungarian, Péter Egri, although Michael Manheim, James A. Robinson, and Marc Maufort (a Belgian) are no slouches either. And to whom go the laurels for having published more books/parts of books on O’Neill than any other? Again, not an American: this time the laurels are to Maufort and again Egri, though Michael Manheim is in there pitching.
And what about the most oft produced of O’Neill’s plays? In terms of productions, our earlier listing indicated that the most popular O’Neill play for the period 1973-85 was Ah, Wilderness!, followed closely by Long Day’s Journey Into Night. The top of the chart for the period 1985-99 was A Moon for the Misbegotten (46 productions), followed neck and neck by Journey(39) and Wilderness (38). For the last quarter century, of the 630 productions we found references to, A Moon for the Misbegotten (85) and Ah, Wilderness! (80) edge out even Long Day’s Journey Into Night (74). At the other end of the spectrum is Lazarus Laughed (none that we found). The Fountain (none), The First Man (1), Dynamo (1), Welded (3), The Personal Equation (1), and The Straw (1) kept, as they should have, low profiles. A Touch of the Poet comes in at a respectable 35 productions, and the very manageable Hughie (28). But some of O’Neill’s more producible plays were not. Strange Interlude got only three, The Emperor Jones a mere 10, and Marco Millions just five, causing us to speculate as to why particular plays are sought and others shunned. Production costs? Innate worth of the play? Length and general unwieldiness? Size of cast? (Lazarus, Marco). But it seems to us that Marco Millions, Interlude, and Jones are much slighted nonetheless.
What else does our book show us about O’Neill scholarship? Unfortunately a lot of . . . well, to put it gently, maddening redundancy. We have seen O’Neill-Strindberged, O’Neill-Junged, O’Neill-Nietzsched, and O’Neill-Ibsened.
We have seen, and (apologies) contributed to, the almost shameless snooping into every nook and cranny of O’Neill’s life. His Provincetown days seem to have held an unending interest for theatre historians. His Catholicism, his ethnicity, have been treated ably by John Henry Raleigh earlier and more recently Edward Shaughnessy, Kevin Sullivan and a number of lesser luminaries including—more apologies—our own Madeline Smith. O’Neill’s women, in fact and fiction, have been hunted down so they have nowhere—and almost nothing—to hide (Bette Mandl, Laurin Porter, Judith Barlow, Jean Anne Waterstradt, Ann Hall, Linda Ben-Zvi, and us), while his minority characters— blacks, Jews—have been of major interest to a host of other O’Neillians (John Cooley, Gary Jay Williams, Joyce Flynn, Deborah Wood Holton, Marcia Press, the Gelbs).
Sadly we must all agree that while O’Neill escaped some of the prejudices of his time, he succumbed to others. O’Neill’s alcoholism and its translation into his plays, handled so thoroughly by Steven Bloom, have now been picked up by a number of the interested (Thomas Dardis, Thomas Gilmore, Donald Goodwin, George Wedge, and Maria Miliora), including some social scientists of the more touchy-feely persuasion for whom the cross-over from fact to fiction seems not very bothersome. (So it might be time to twelve-step it on to new topics.)
Influences on O’Neill would, of course, be grist to literary scholars’ mill. So Shakespeare’s influence is a field which has been, if not exhausted, at least well-ploughed (Normand Berlin, John Astington, and Nina Song). Ditto O’Neill’s connections with tragedy (Ernest Griffin and Stephen Black), and with Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, and even, yes, Aristophanes (Richard Moorton, John Chioles). The depths of O’Neill’s Eastern connections have also been plumbed considerably—if you’ll pardon the shift in metaphor—by Frank Cunningham, James Robinson, Niu Bai, Yuan-Xia Zhang. And after influence studies can “confluence” studies be far behind? Like minds responding to like situations in like ways inspire thoughts of the empathies that must have existed between Melville (or at least the soul of Melville) and O’Neill. Thank you, Marc Maufort.
If you have published anything on O’Neill of late, we may have you feeling a bit warm. You might, in fact, be mildly peeved at us for hinting at what O’Neill interests should and should not be addressed. You could even accuse us of adding to the mountains of superfluous O’Neilliana. As two who subscribe to biographical criticism, we plead guilty to prying into the details of the playwright’s life. But hold the tomatoes and indulge us a bit as we applaud some of the more engaging/successful recent publications on O’Neill and suggest possibilities for further investigation.
While so much of O’Neill’s life appears to have been poked into, still there are some serendipitous finds: Nicholas Gage’s discovery, chronicled in his memoir A Place for Us, that the hotel fireplace where tradition had it Carlotta and O’Neill burned his unfinished work does not (and never did) exist. The plays, Gage discovered, were burned in the hotel’s basement furnace instead. Jackson Bryer and the late Travis Bogard jointly and separately have contributed immensely to O’Neill studies by annotating and publishing O’Neill letters. Primary material, even material tangential to O’Neill, gets our imprimatur, so we appreciate W. Davies King’s volume of the Agnes Boulton-Eugene O’Neill correspondence with King’s very helpful and interesting narrative links. A fascinating account of an awful story. We also applaud essays that flesh out those friends and associates of O’Neill who may have influenced his creativity (See Bogard’s “First Love,” on Marion Welch aka Muriel McComber, or articles on Harold DePolo, who avoided paying rent by asserting his pedigree, or on Dirty Dolan aka Hogan, who did much the same, or on the Hapgoods or Edward Harkness).
Thanks to the Louis Sheaffer trove, Connecticut College’s generosity in making it so accessible, and the availability of the material on line (owing to Harley Hammerman’s industry and enthusiasm—see <www.eOneill.com>), much can still be done in these areas. And did you seethe edifying article on O’Neill’s and Carlotta’s stay at Le Plessis that Marc Maufort produced after visiting their former residence, more recently an agricultural school and most recently a B & B? (For the latest information and pictures see <eOneill.com> and follow the links.) Or Edwin McDonough’s illuminating 1986 doctoral dissertation on José Quintero directing O’Neill, a work which has since been published. Or Robin Jaffee Frank’s art history dissertation, “Charles Demuth’s Poster Portraits: 1923-1929,” which explores the relationship between the playwright and the painter. Or Sven-Johan Spånberg’s “The Pre-Raphaelite Woman in O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (1986), which provides a fresh look at a much analyzed character by considering Mary Tyrone as the “Pre-Raphaelite ideal.” Ronald Miller has revisited the much maligned (and rightfully so) Servitude to find Shavian influence (Candida).
Recently critics have begun to consider, not so much influences on O’Neill as his influence on subsequent playwrights (Albee, Mamet, Shepard). More remains to be done, surely, in tracing O’Neill’s influence. Indeed, as a side note, we recall Fred Wilkins’ collecting phrases from newspapers and magazines to show the echoes of O’Neill in popular culture. And now we learn from Don Foster’s Author Unknown that Ted Kaczynski—the Unabomber—had from 1978 to 1995 used the one-dollar Eugene O’Neill stamps from the “Prominent Americans” series for mailing his bombs (126-27). Was it a “sinister joke,” a literary warning—beware, the Iceman cometh? Kaczynski hasn’t said.
So where to go from here? Original and primary materials must always get a nod: correspondence heretofore unpublished; overlooked relationships that may have influenced character; performance histories; actors’ recollections of memorable performances; O’Neill’s reception in foreign lands. Indeed on this point the question arises, how widespread is the scholarly and critical interest in O’Neill? Our latest researches show that the Chinese, the Russians, the Czechs, and especially East Indians are publishing on our subject. Germans and the English also evince some interest. But by and large O’Neill continues to generate most critical response, not surprisingly, from Americans. If our list of productions is close to comprehensive, some areas of the globe (South America, Australia) seem only slightly aware of our Nobel-prize winner.
Of course we curmudgeons hope that America’s love affair with O’Neill’s life (did you know that O’Neill the man has furnished a subject for four plays and two poems?) never wanes (do we have time for a bibliographical trilogy?) and, moreover, that other parts of the globe will join in our national enthusiasm. But while we applaud the interest in O’Neill’s biography and canon, we are not eager to see more articles and books on what has been thoroughly investigated. The redundancy drives bibliographical annotators to the brink.
But perhaps more maddening is the entrenched attitude we’ve encountered, even among the educated and enlightened, that everything is on the internet, that bibliographies are passé and that thoroughly researching a topic takes but a few minutes at a PC. While attending a conference a few years ago, we were stunned as one presenter explained some problems with his paper by unabashedly acknowledging that he had written it on the last leg of his crosscountry flight. His candor may have been appreciated by some, but we were mightily affronted. Perhaps we like to preserve the illusion that researching a topic thoroughly to make sure it hasn’t already been addressed, thinking it through carefully, generating multiple drafts of a paper, and, yes, even proofreading, are not out of fashion.
It hath made us mad.
Basbanes, Nicholas A. A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books. New York: Henry Holt, 1995.
Foster, Don. Author Unknown: On the Trail of Anonymous. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
Gage, Nicholas. A Place for Us. Boston: Houghton, 1989.
Miller, Jordan Y. Eugene O’Neill and the American Critic: A Bibliographical Checklist. 2nd ed., rev. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1973.
Smith, Madeline, and Richard Eaton. Eugene O’Neill: An Annotated International Bibliography, 1973-1999. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.
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