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Authors: Eugene O'Neill,Harold Bloom

Long Day's Journey into Night (Yale Nota Bene)

BOOK: Long Day's Journey into Night (Yale Nota Bene)
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Long Day’s Journey into Night






with a foreword by Harold Bloom

Yale University Press
New Haven & London

First published as a Yale Nota Bene book in 2002.


Copyright © as an unpublished work
1955 by Carlotta Monterey O’Neill.
Copyright © 1955 by Carlotta Monterey O’Neill.
First published February 1956.
Copyright © renewed 1984 by Yale University.
Corrected edition copyright © 1989 by Yale University.
Foreword copyright © 1987 by Harold Bloom. Foreword originally published in a slightly different version by Chelsea House in its Modern Critical Interpretation Series.


All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.


For information about this and other Yale University Press publications, please contact:
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Printed in the United States of America


Library of Congress control number: 2001097735


0-300-09410-8 (cloth)
0-300-09305-5 (pbk.)


10 9 8 7 6 5 4


Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that
Long Day’s Journey into Night
, being fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, the British Empire, including the Dominion of Canada, and all other countries of the copyright union, is subject to a royalty. All rights, including professional, amateur, motion picture, television, recitation, public reading, radio broadcasting, and the rights of translation into foreign languages, are strictly reserved. All inquiries regarding this play should be addressed to Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Trustees of C. M. O’Neill, One Wall Street, New York, N.Y. 10005.


was founded at the Yale University Library in 1931 by Carlotta Monterey O’Neill. It includes notes, photographs, and the manuscripts of plays, among them
All royalties from the sale of the Yale editions of this book go to Yale University for the benefit of the Eugene O’Neill Collection, for the purchase of books in the field of drama, and for the establishment of Eugene O’Neill Scholarships in the Yale School of Drama.


Frontispiece: Wood engraving by Michael McCurdy


It is an inevitable oddity that the principal American dramatist to date should have no American precursors. Eugene O’Neill’s art as a playwright owes most to Strindberg’s, and something crucial, though rather less, to Ibsen’s. Intellectually, O’Neill’s ancestry also has little to do with American tradition, with Emerson or William James or any other of our cultural speculators. Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud formed O’Neill’s sense of what little was possible for any of us. Even where American literary tradition was strongest, in the novel and poetry, it did not much affect O’Neill. His novelists were Zola and Conrad; his poets were Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Swinburne. Overwhelmingly an Irish-American, with his Jansenist Catholicism transformed into anger at God, he had little active interest in the greatest American writer, Whitman, though his spiritual darkness has a curious, antithetical relation to Whitman’s overt analysis of our national character.

Yet O’Neill, despite his many limitations, is the most American of our handful of dramatists who matter most: Williams, Miller, Wilder, Albee, Kushner, perhaps Mamet and Shepard. A national quality that is literary, yet has no clear relation to our domestic literary traditions, is nearly always present in O’Neill’s strongest works. We can recognize Hawthorne in Henry James, and Whitman (however repressed) in T. S. Eliot, while the relation of Hemingway and Faulkner to Mark Twain is just as evident as their debt to Conrad. Besides the question of his genre (since there was no vital American drama before O’Neill), there would seem to be some hidden factor that governed O’Neill’s ambiguous relation to our literary past. It was certainly not the lack of critical discernment on O’Neill’s part. His admiration for Hart Crane’s poetry, at its most difficult, was solely responsible for the publication of Crane’s first volume,
White Buildings,
for which O’Neill initially offered to write the introduction, withdrawing in favor of Allen Tate when the impossibility of his writing a critical essay on Crane’s complexities became clear to O’Neill. But to have recognized Hart Crane’s genius, so early and so helpfully, testifies to O’Neill’s profound insights into the American literary imagination at its strongest.

The dramatist whose masterpieces are
The Iceman Cometh
Long Day’s Journey into Night,
and, in a class just short of those,
A Moon for the Misbegotten
A Touch of the Poet,
is not exactly to be regarded as a celebrator of the possibilities of American life. The central strain in our literature remains Emersonian, from Whitman to our contemporaries like Saul Bellow and John Ashbery. Even the tradition that reacted against Emerson—from Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville through Gnostics of the abyss like Nathanael West and Thomas Pynchon—remains always alert to transcendental and extraordinary American possibilities. Robert Penn Warren must be the most overtly anti-Emersonian partisan in our history, yet even Warren seeks an American Sublime in his still-ongoing poetry. O’Neill would appear to be the most non-Emersonian author of any eminence in our literature. Irish-American through and through, with an heroic resentment of the New England Yankee tradition, O’Neill from the start seemed to know that his spiritual quest was to undermine Emerson’s American religion of self-reliance.

O’Neill’s own Irish Jansenism is curiously akin to the New England Puritanism he opposed, but that only increased the rancor of his powerful polemic in
Desire under the Elms, Mourning Becomes Electra
, and
More Stately Mansions.
The Will to Live is set against New England Puritanism in what O’Neill himself once called “the battle of moral forces in the New England scene" to which he said he felt closest as an artist. But since this is Schopenhauer’s rapacious Will to Live, and not Bernard Shaw’s genial revision of that Will into the Life Force of a benign Creative Evolution, O’Neill is in the terrible position of opposing one death-drive with another. Only the inescapable Strindberg comes to mind as a visionary quite as negative as O’Neill, so that
The Iceman Cometh
might as well have been called
The Dance of Death,
Long Day’s Journey into Night
could be retitled
The Ghost Sonata.
O’Neill’s most powerful self-representations—as Edmund in
Long Day’s Journey
and Larry Slade in
—are astonishingly negative identifications, particularly in an American context.

Edmund and Slade do not long for death in the mode of Whitman and his descendants—Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane, and Theodore Roethke—all of whom tend to incorporate the image of a desired death into the great, triple trope of night, the mother, and the sea. Edmund Tyrone and Larry Slade long to die because life without transcendence is impossible, and yet transcendence is totally unavailable. O’Neill’s true polemic against his country and its spiritual tradition is not, as he insisted, that “its main idea is that everlasting game of trying to possess your own soul by the possession of something outside it." Though uttered in 1946, in remarks before the first performance of
The Iceman Cometh,
such a reflection is banal and represents a weak misreading of
The Iceman Cometh.
The play’s true argument is that your own soul cannot be possessed, whether by possessing something or someone outside it, or by joining yourself to a transcendental possibility, to whatever version of an Emersonian Oversoul that you might prefer. The United States, in O’Neill’s dark view, was uniquely the country that had refused to learn the truths of the spirit, which are that good and the means of good, love and the means of love, are irreconcilable.

Such a formulation is Shelleyan, and reminds one of O’Neill’s High Romantic inheritance, which reached him through pre-Raphaelite poetry and literary speculation. O’Neill seems a strange instance of the Aestheticism of Rossetti and Pater, but his metaphysical nihilism, desperate faith in art, and phantasmagoric naturalism stem directly from them. When Jamie Tyrone quotes from Rossetti’s “Willowwood" sonnets, he gives the epigraph not only to
Long Day’s Journey
but to all of O’Neill: “Look into my face. My name is Might-Have-Been; / I am also called No More, Too Late, Farewell." In O’Neill’s deepest polemic, the lines are quoted by, and for, all Americans of imagination whatsoever.


By common consent,
Long Day’s Journey into Night
is Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece. The Yale paperback in which I have just reread the play lists itself as the seventy-seventh printing in the forty-five years since publication. Since O’Neill, rather than Williams or Miller, Wilder or Albee, is recognized as our leading dramatist,
Long Day’s Journey
must be the best play in our more than two centuries as a nation. One rereads it therefore with awe and a certain apprehension, but with considerable puzzlement also. Strong work it certainly is, and twice I have been moved by watching it well directed and well performed. Yet how can this be the best stage play that an exuberantly dramatic people has produced? Is it equal to the best of our imaginative literature? Can we read it in the company of
The Scarlet Letter
Moby-Dick, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Portrait of a Lady, As I Lay Dying
Gravity’s Rainbow?
Does it have the aesthetic distinction of our greatest poets, of Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, Stevens, Eliot, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, and John Ashbery? Can it stand intellectually with the crucial essays of Emerson and of William James?

These questions, alas, are self-answering. O’Neill’s limitations are obvious and need not be surveyed intensively. Perhaps no major dramatist has ever been so lacking in rhetorical exuberance, in what Yeats once praised Blake for having: “beautiful, laughing speech." O’Neill’s convictions were deeply held, but were in no way remarkable, except for their incessant sullenness. It is embarrassing when O’Neill’s exegetes attempt to expound his ideas, whether about his country, his own work, or the human condition. When one of them speaks of “two kinds of nonverbal, tangential poetry in
Long Day’s Journey into Night"
as the characters’ longing “for a mystical union of sorts," and the influence of the setting, I am compelled to reflect that insofar as O’Neill’s art is nonverbal it must also be nonexistent.

BOOK: Long Day's Journey into Night (Yale Nota Bene)
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