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Eugene O'Neill and His
Eleven-Play Cycle

"a tale of possessors self-dispossessed"

Donald C. Gallup
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998
First edition, with dust jacket

From 1935 to 1939, Eugene O'Neill devoted nearly all of his creative energy to a vast cycle of plays that would trace the history of an American family through several generations. In showing the corrupting influence of material things upon its members, O'Neill would provide "a prophetic epitome for the course of American destiny." Quoting extensively from unpublished notes, outlines, scenarios, and drafts, and incorporating detailed plot summaries, this book tells for the first time the complicated story of the cycle project. It shows what the dramatist tried to do, how he went about it, and why in the end he failed.

"A Tale of Possessors Self-Dispossessed" began as a single play about a clipper ship, set in 1857 and 1858, but it expanded eventually to eleven plays going back to 1754 or 1755. O'Neill completed to his satisfaction only one play (published posthumously as A Touch of the Poet), although he drafted—and then destroyed—three other double-length plays and prepared a detailed scenario for a fifth. Yet the project's failure contained within it a victory, for in 1939 O'Neill cast off his obsession with his cycle and went on to create such masterworks as The Iceman Cometh and Long Day`s Journey into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and Hughie.


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