Eugene O'Neil (1888-1953)
One of the major American dramatists, he wrote a large body of plays, almost all implacably tragic and ambitious in scope, ranging from Expressionism to Naturalism, from Symbolism to the updating of ancient Greek drama. In 1936 he won the Nobel Prize for literature "for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy". Eugene O'Neil was born in New York. He father James O'Neil, was a touring actor. Eugene's early years were marked by great emotional insecurity, as the family traveled from town to town, and he later complained bitterly of the stress this placed on the family, especially his mother, who was driven to drug addiction.
O'Neil was educated at private boarding schools in New York and Connecticut, and in 1906 entered Princeton University from which he was eventually suspended after his first year. Then began a period of wandering and casual work, the six years he spent in this way were his true education. When he was twenty-four he became ill with tuberculosis. While recuperating, he read the whole of the classic repertoire of the theater and decided to devote himself to writing plays. In 1936 O'Neil was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. By 1941 he managed to complete Long Day's Journe into Night, dealing with the conflicts between the member of an American family. It was an intensely autobiographical tragedy, since O'Neil's life was also marked by tragic events in his own family: his mother's drug-addiction; the tortured relationship between his mother and his father, who loved but tormented each other, his brilliant elder brother who died of alcoholism in middle age. His own marriages were plagues by failure.
His eldest son committed suicide; his second son had acute behavioral problems, his daughter Oona married Charlie Chaplin when she was eighteen (Chaplin was thirty-five years older than her), a step to which O'Neil reacted with most unreasonable, protracted anger and resentment. Much of this suffering was projected directly or indirectly into the play, which was performed for the first time in 1956, three years after O'Neil's death.