FOUR LETTERS BY EUGENE O'NEILL
In 1977 Mircea Filip published, as a memorial to the eminent Romanian critic, translator, Ind Americanist Petru Comarnescu, a collection of Comarnescu's writings on the theater.1 Since the volume contained not only previously published but also some unpublished materials, it is obvious that Filip had access to Comarnescu's private papers--including part, at least, of his correspondence. In any event, included in the volume were four letters in Romanian from O'Neill to Comarnescu--written between 1938 and 1945.2
Though in Mircea Filip's introduction to the collection mention is made of the letters,3 there is no indication of who translated them (Comarnescu? Filip?) or of whether the originals are still extant. But since there is no reason to doubt their authenticity, it seems to us important that they become more widely available to the larger O'Neill audience.
As far as we can discover, Comarnescu has never been mentioned in American O'Neill scholarship (except indirectly4), nor have the O'Neill plays in Romanian translation been given that attention that some of his other translations have. So we shall briefly introduce both, as annotation to the letters.
Comarnescu was born in Romania in 1905, coming of age at a time when the newly enlarged state was in need of a national identity to coordinate the disparate elements that now made up Greater Romania. Comarnescu felt the need early, and so, after study at the University of Southern California in 1930-31, he returned to Romania, hoping to introduce to his country an America he viewed as having successfully met the sorts of cultural challenges his own country faced. For the rest of his life--he died 22 November 1970--he pursued that goal.
Between 1934 and 1968 Comarnescu published essays on Maxwell Anderson, Pearl Buck, Dreiser, Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Gertrude Stein, Whitman, Thornton Wilder and others. He translated American short stories, novels (including Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee) and poetry, and he wrote a book on Benjamin Franklin. In addition he helped to edit at least three journals and became so well known for his writings on the theater that in 1945 he was one of the favored (though unsuccessful) candidates for the directorship of the National Theater of Bucharest.
Also he was an enthusiastic and industrious O'Neillian. He translated, alone, Strange Interlude, Before Breakfast and Bound East for Cardiff, and, jointly with Margareta Sterian, Ah, Wilderness!, Beyond the Horizon, Days Without End, Desire Under the Elms and Mourning Becomes Electra. He also wrote the prefaces to two collections of O'Neill's plays in translation, including the 3-volume one of 1968 which he himself edited, and at least five journal essays and one book on O'Neill.
By the end of the period 1938-1945 covered by O'Neill's letters to him, Comarnescu had published at least four of his O'Neill essays, and either alone or with one co-translator had produced six of the ten O'Neill translations that had appeared in Romanian.5
--Madeline C. Smith and Richard B. Eaton
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My dear Mr. Comarnescu,
I thank you very much for your most interesting letter. Your article in the Revue Hebdomadaire was already known to me. I was impressed by its subtle criticism. I see with regret that the original was abridged by the editor of the magazine. but even in its shortened form it is far superior to most studies of my work.6 Accept my congratulations and my grateful appreciation.
I am delighted to know that you have translated Strange Interlude. You may consider this letter as authorization for the edition that you wish to publish and [you have] my assurance that I hereby waive all royalties for this edition. All I ask is that you send me a copy of the book for my library.
Concerning your proposal that I write an introduction to this edition, I must decline. Please do not think that this has anything to do with your specific request; certain circumstances in recent years have forced me to impose a strict rule not to write any introductions for anyone.
I an sending you separately my photograph with the autograph that you desired. I regret that I have nothing that I can send for the Revista Fundatiilor.7 Later on when I an at a more advanced stage in my new cycle of plays, I may have something for you. During this past year my work on this cycle was interrupted by illness.
What you tell me about an artist, Miss Margareta Sterian, having obtained permission to translate Mourning Becomes Electra amazes me.
I have no recollection of having net her in- 1931, or of anyone ever asking permission to translate it into Romanian. Did she show you a written authorization from me or a contract from ay agent? I believe that the lady is imagining things. But even if she had such an authorization, her failure to do anything for seven years would weaken her rights. In all the contracts that I make for translations, the translator is given two or three years, Rot more, in which he must find the means to publish it in some way or lose his rights.8
Thank you again for your letter--and all my gratitude for your interest in my work.
20 May 1938
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26 November 1938
My dear Mr. Comarnescu,
I was very happy to receive your letter of 31 October which just arrived. I am truly glad to see that your translation of Strange Interlude will be published by an organization of such importance.9 It gives me great pleasure to accept the conditions offered and I am prepared to write to my agent10 in New York to prepare a contract according to the information in your letter. As soon as he sends it, I will sign it and mail it to you.
It is also a pleasure to hear that Beyond the Horizon is in the process of translation by your friend Mr. Popa,11 and that it will be produced by the National Theater in Cluj. I am also happy to learn that Strange Interlude will soon be performed in the National Theater in Bucharest. I hope that these plays will be favorably received and I appreciate your willingness to pass on to me your personal opinion of the productions after you have seen them.
As far as Mourning Becomes Electra, which I regard as the best thing that I have done, I hope that you will translate it. You can consider this letter as an authorization to do it. I believe that this play will be the most successful of all my plays presented in your theaters, at least from an artistic standpoint. As far as I know, the work has been greeted with enthusiasm wherever it has been played in Europe. Of the production in Vienna I have never heard anything. It was performed exactly in the days when Hitler arrived there. I don't believe the citizens of Vienna were very interested in stage drama at that time!
I eagerly await copies of the books edited by you with translations of my works.
Again let me express my deep appreciation for your interest in my work. I sincerely hope that your help in handling my plays in your country will be of real value to you in your own career as a writer.
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My dear Mr. Comarnescu,
I did not receive your letter of 28 January till a few days ago.
I cannot understand why you didn't receive the contract for translating Strange Interlude, but without a doubt you will have received it before this letter.
I am sorry that I do not German and therefore cannot tell you whether the work of Koischwitz is valuable.12 Clark's book contains some interesting things, but as far as its critical worth is concerned it is of minor importance. In this country there are two other published books dealing with my work that are much more interesting than Clark's: one by Sophus Winther, from a left-wing materialistic point of view; the other by R. Dana Skinner, from a right-wing religious-mystical position. They are both, in general, favorable, if you can imagine such a thing!
But I don't believe it is worth your being concerned with either one of them. Perhaps what you need are facts; in that case Clark's book can give you enough.
You were erroneously informed about the existence of an autobiography. I have never written one--or any book about my work.
I am sorry to hear that you are ill. I had an operation for appendicitis two years ago.
With the best of wishes for you, with friendship.
March 8, 1039
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12 July 1945
My dear Mr. Comarnescu,
Your two letters arrived only a few days ago. Before then I had received no other letters.
I am excited to hear of the warm reception that was given to my play Mourning Becomes Electra at the National Theater, in your translation, and of the success of the other works that you have mentioned.
The favorable acceptance given the play Mourning Becomes Electra by the public, as well as by specialists, gave me great satisfaction, but I was saddened at the thought that the Germans had destroyed your beautiful National Theater.
I was of the opinion that my agent in New York had sent you, before the war, an approval signed by me, which would give you sole rights as translator and protector of my rights of authorship in Romania. I know that I had intended to proceed in such a manner. It was at the time when your translation of Strange Interlude was published. Probably my agent did not understand my intention well enough and sent you only the approval for Strange Interlude. Anyway, to save time there is enclosed with the present letter another, which will give the sole rights, as my representative in Romania and translator of all my works not yet translated, to you. This will permit you to receive authorization and rights of authorship from the Society of Romanian Writers.
I desire sincerely to submit to the statutes of this association, and I take responsibility that what is written above does not contradict its laws. But if I have done anything without realizing it, please bring it to my attention.
As far as what I have written during the time that you have not heard anything about me, I must tell you that in the last two years I have completed nothing because of illness. Before then I continued to work with great difficulty to complete four plays (not counting those in the cycle).
I am not quite yet well enough to write about all of this in a longer letter but I will try later. You would do me a great favor if you would be good enough to express my grateful thanks to all those who contributed to the production of the trilogy Mourning Becomes Electra and the other plays.
With most grateful thanks,
P.S. My plays are collected under the title Complete Works [Opere Complete] in three volumes. The last edition is voluminous and I am afraid that, because of present conditions, you will not receive it for several years.13
*The translations of the Romanian "originals" were provided by Dr. Gerald J. Bobanzo and Father Raymond Samolia, for whose efforts we offer sincere gratitude. --MCS and RBE.
1. Petru Comarnescu, Scrieri despre Teatru, ed. Mircea Filip (Iasi: Editura Junimea, 1977).
2. Pp. 149-55. They were appended to the reprint of a 51-page introduction to Comarnescu's 1939 translation of Strange Interlude (Scrieri 97-148).
3. "Nota aspura editiei," xiii.
4. See Thomas Amherst Perry, "The Contribution of Petru Comarnescu to Romanian-American Literary Relationships," Southeastern Europe 7.1 (1980): 91-98, of which four paragraphs and three footnotes touch on O'Neill's connection with Comarnescu; and the same author's A Bibliography of American Literature Translated into Romanian (New York: Philosophical Library, 1983), 124-25, 171, 265. What we say hereafter of Comarnescu's career is culled from those two sources and Filip's "Prefata" to Scrieri.
5. For a listing of the essays and translations see our appendix.
6. Comarnescu's "Drama vietii pi a cunoasterii la Eugene O'Neill." Revista fundatiilor regale 4.2 (1937): 345-70, was reprinted, though slightly abridged, in the 15 Jan. 1938 issue of La Revue Hebdomadaire (Scrieri 140 note).
7. The full title is Revista fundatiilor regale--the journal of a society which Perry says (Bibliography 320) was under royal patronage.
8. Margareta Sterian is listed in Perry's Bibliography as co-translator with Comarnescu of five O'Neill plays published between 1943 and 1945--including Mourning Becomes Electra. See appendix.
9. Fundatiilor regale--the society referred to in note 7.
10. Richard Madden?
11. Probably Ioan Popa who translated American works during this period: we find no translation by him of Beyond the Horizon listed in Perry, the NUC, or the Index Translationum.
12. Otto Koischwitz's O'Neill (Berlin: Junker and Dünnhaupt) had been published in 1938; an essay, "0 monografie germana despre dramaturgul O'Neill," had been published in the April 1939 issue of Revista fundatiilor regale.
13. Possibly a reference to the turmoil at the end of the WWII.
A. Translations of O'Neill's plays into Romanian: from information found in Perry's Bibliography, the NUC, the Index Translationum and Scrieri.
1. Strange Interlude [Straniul interludiu]. Trans. Petru Comarnescu. Bucharest: Fundatiilor regale, 1939.
2. The Emperor Jones [Imparatul negru]. Trans. Drag°, Protopopescu. Teatru englez. Bucharest: Casa scoalelor, 1943.
3. Ah, Wilderness! [Bat-o pustia de lame],
4. Beyond the Horizon [Dincolo de zare],
5. Days Without End [Dragostea nu moare niciodata],
6. Desire Under the Elms [Patina de sub ulmi], in Dramele marii si pamintului. Trans. Margareta Sterian and Petru Comarnescu. Bucharest: Fundatiilor regale, 1943.
7. Mourning Becomes Electra [Din jale se intrupeaza Electra]. Trans. Margareta Sterian and Petru Comarnescu. Bucharest: Fundatiilor regale, 1943-1945.
8. Anna Christie [the same]. Trans. Dina Cocea. Bucharest: "Teatru nostru," 1944.
9. Welded [Michael si Ana]. Trans. Dragos Protopopescu. Bucharest: "Teatru nostru," 1945.
10. Where the Cross Is Made [Locul unde e crucea]. Trans. Alf Adania. Revista Romano-Americana 1.2-3 (1946-47): 191-201.
11. Moon of the Caribbees [Luna de la Caribee]. Trans. Mircea Vaianu. Revista Romano-Americana 2.1 (1947).
12. Bound East for Cardiff [Spre est, spre Cardiff],
13. Ile [Ulei],
14. In the Zone [In zona],
15. The Long Voyage Home [In lung drumul spre cash], in Teatru. Trans. Alexandru Alcalay and Sima Zamfir. Bucharest: Edit. pentru literatura universala, 1957.
16. The Emperor Jones [Imparatul Jones]. Trans. Alexandru Alcalay and Sian Zaafir. Bucharest: Fondul literar al scriitorul din R.P.R., 1958.
17. Before Breakfast [Inaintea gustarii de dimineata],
18. Bound East for Cardiff [In drum spre Cardiff], in Secolul XX 6.8 (1968): 29 ff. Trans. Petru Comarnescu.
19. A Moon for the Misbegotten [Luna pentru cei dezmosteniti]. Trans. Sergiu Farcasan and Aneta Dobre, and
20. A Touch of the Poet [Fire de Poet]. Trans. Ivan Benes. Teatru american contemporan, ed. Petru Comarnescu. Bucharest: Editura pentru literatura universaia, 1967.
21. Long Day's Journey Into Night [Lungul drum al zilei catre noapte]. Referred to by Mircea Filip ("Prefata," Scrieri ix), but with no publication data; not found in Perry, NUC, Index Translationum. Filip also refers (140 note) to translations of Welded and Days Without End, using titles (Doi intr-o singura fiinta and Dragoste fara sfirsit) different from the titles of nos. 9 and 5 above. Possibly they are different translations also. In 1968 Comarnescu published his 3-volume edition of O'Neill--Teatru--which contained reprints of 17, 18, 19, and 20 above and, presumably, many others.
B. Studies on O'Neill by Comarnescu: culled from Perry's Bibliography and the "Prefata" to and footnotes in Scrieri.
1. "Drama vietii 9i a cunoasterii la O'Neill." Revista fundatiilor regale 4.2 (1937): 345-70.
2. "Neoclassicismul lui O'Neill." Revista fundatiilor regale 4.3 (1937): 596-628.
3. "Introducere," Straniul Interludiu [Strange Interlude]. Trans. Petru Comarnescu. Bucharest: Fundatiilor regale, 1939. [We do not know the pagination of the original but for the reprint, see end note 2].
4. "Chemarea 'Aril la O'Neill." Revista fundatiilor regale 12.3 (1945): 697-8.
5. "Eugene O'Neill, dramaturgul dragostei," Revista fundatiilor regale 13.6 (1946): 322-38.
6. Preface to Teatru (Bucharest: Editura pentru literature universals, 1957).
7. "O'Neill si piesele intr-un act despre mare si oameni." Secolul XX 6.8 (1966): 103-12.
8. Preface to his 3-volume edition of [O'Neill's] Teatru. Bucharest: Editura pentru literature universala, 1968.
9. Eugene O'Neill. Bucharest: Editura pentru literature universala, 1968.
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