Musings on O’Neill

Musings on O’Neill

Friday morning we visited the Monte Cristo cottage where O’Neill spent his boyhood summers. Since my principal frame of reference is Long Day’s Journey into Night, I was pleasantly surprised by the house. I expected it to be dark and claustrophobic, but the rooms on the first floor are airy and full of light. Even the enclosed sun porch known ominously as the “long day’s journey room” is comfortable and lined by windows that look out toward the water, not at all the dreary room I had anticipated. I think I would have enjoyed spending my summers there. I admit that the bedrooms on the second floor are small, confined, and uninspiring, but O’Neill’s bedroom is at the front and also has a lovely view of sky and water. I guess the reasons that he hated New London so much were much more psychological than physical; the family was not accepted by the town or the WASP society that dominated it, and the feeling of being an outsider probably eclipsed the joy of living there.

Saturday afternoon we had some free time, and I wandered down the expansive lawn of the Hammond estate that houses the O’Neill Theater Center to relax on the beach and wade in Long Island Sound. The setting of the center is beautiful and amazingly peaceful considering the bustling activity going on all summer. As I was walking back up the hill to the mansion, I wondered what O’Neill would have been like if he had spent summers there instead of at Monte Cristo cottage. Would his outlook have been less dark and pessimistic? Or would that dark strain of Celtic fatalism have emerged no matter what his surrounding? Did he need the twin scourges of discrimination and unhappiness to shape his greatness as a writer? Did his feeling of not being acceptable help him penetrate to the core and portray other outsiders as lost and lonely, too? I wonder.

— Barbara Bannon, Salt Lake City

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