O'NEILL, Eugene

(1888 - 1953)
“We are such things as rubbish is made of, so let's drink up and forget it.”

Eugene Gladstone O’Neill was an American playwright who introduced the form of realism into US drama. He grew up in a household where his actor father was generally absent, touring with theatre companies, and his mother struggled with a long-term addiction to morphine.. As a young man he spent some time at sea, but after a few years he became an alcoholic, attempted suicide and developed tuberculosis, aged only 24. It was whilst recovering that he had a damascene moment and started to write plays.  His father was persuaded to send him off to study with George Pierce Barker on his famous playwriting course at Harvard, where the chance to really work at writing set him on his chosen path.

O’Neill wrote over nearly 60 plays and most were written from an intensely personal point of view, stemming directly from the familial drama and religion-induced guilt that were so much part of his childhood.  His characters generally dwell in the fringes of society and he had them speak in the vernacular, which was an innovative decision at the time.  His greatest play, Long Day’s Journey into Night, published posthumously, is largely autobiographical and epitomises O’Neill’s tragic view of life.  Like his compatriots Tennesse Williams and Arthur Miller, O’Neill’s characters struggle to succeed, but ultimately face disillusion and despair.  

His work won him an astonishing four Pulitzer Prizes, and in 1936 he was the first, and only, American playwright to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded ““for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy”

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 Eugene O'NEILL

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