Eugene O’Neill was one of those figures in American arts and letters whose principal stock in trade was domestic agony. His best work came from being the youngest son of a respectable but dysfunctional American Irish Catholic family. As a boy, Eugene learned about the theater through his father, one of the most famous actors of his time. The future playwright spent his adolescence as an enthusiastic rakehell, partial to drink, whores, and lowlife companions. These tastes, combined with a deliberate failure to complete his Princeton education, a bout of tuberculosis, and a spell in the merchant navy, seemed to point toward a short, dirty, and deliberately proletarian life.

But O’Neill also had a taste for literature, especially poetry and plays; his early life on tour with his father had added to this an easy familiarity with theatrical techniques. In 1912, after spending six months in a sanatorium recovering from...

 
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