O'Neill: Life with Monte Cristo

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9780399149122: O'Neill: Life with Monte Cristo

Never before in the annals of American letters have biographers returned to their subject with the aim of radically rethinking and retelling their story form beginning to end.

Arthur and Barbara Gelb's O'Neill: Life with Monte Cristo is the first volume of the completely rewritten biography of America's only Nobel Prize-winning playwright. The Gelbs originally published the first full-scale life of the dramatist in 1962, nine years after his death. In the intervening thirty-eight years, they have conducted extensive interviews and have unearthed masses of hitherto unknown or withheld material-letters, diaries, scenarios-from which they have fashioned this supremely definitive life of O'Neill.

The Gelbs take O'Neill from his lonely childhood through his seafaring, adventure-filled, and often self-destructive youth. This new research and perspective probes O'Neill's psychological torment over his mother's rejection and his father's benevolent tyranny, his suicide attempt, his struggle with alcoholism, and his tumultuous love affairs. This first volume follows O'Neill to his first triumph on Broadway with Beyond the Horizon that set him on the path toward the ultimate brilliant achievements of The Iceman Cometh, A Moon for the Misbegotten, and what is universally regarded as America's greatest play, Long Day's Journey into Night.

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Review:

If at first you don't succeed... well, actually, Arthur and Barbara Gelb's 1962 book about Eugene O'Neill was a resounding success by any measure; for years, theirs was the definitive account of the Nobel Prize-winning playwright and his work. Far from resting on their laurels, however, the Gelbs spent the next 38 years continuing their research, interviewing O'Neill's family and friends and digging up new sources of information. Now they've produced O'Neill: Life with Monte Cristo, both a rewrite of their 1962 biography and a major literary event in its own right. The first installment of a projected trilogy, O'Neill uses the plays themselves as a jumping-off point for an exploration of the playwright's life, including substantial discussion of his colorful father, his Irish ancestors, and his troubled early years. This later work gains not only from its new source materials and widened scope but also from what the Gelbs note is a "changed sensibility"--both in themselves and the world around them. Those 38 intervening years have brought increased personal understanding and remarkable developments in O'Neill scholarship, they write, and O'Neill benefits from both. Marked by meticulous attention to detail and daring leaps in chronology, the Gelbs' biography is a remarkable reevaluation of one of our most violent and original American talents. --Greta Kline

About the Author:

Arthur Gelb, former managing editor of The New York Times, has edited numerous works, including Great Lives of the Twentieth Century. He is president of The New York Times Company Foundation. The Gelbs live in New York City.
Barbara Gelb is the author of So Short a Time, a biography of John Reed and Louise Bryant, and she is the coauthor of O'Neill. Barbara and Arthur Gelb live in New York City.

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