Literary daybook, July 22

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published July 22, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On July 22, 1482, Nicholas and Julius brawl in the streets of Edinburgh.
-- "Gemini" (2000)
by Dorothy Dunnett

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in literary history
On this day in 1941, on his 12th wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" to his wife, Carlotta. Accompanying the manuscript was O'Neill's letter of dedication:

"Dearest: I give you the original script of this play of old sorrow, written in tears and blood. A sadly inappropriate gift, it would seem, for a day celebrating happiness. But you will understand. I mean it as a tribute to your love and tenderness which gave me the faith in love that enabled me to face my dead at last and write this play -- write it with deep pity and understanding and forgiveness for all the four haunted Tyrones. These twelve years, Beloved One, have been a Journey into Light -- into love ..."

Accompanying the manuscript were O'Neill's instructions, communicated to Carlotta and to Bennett Cerf at Random House, that the play could not be published until 25 years after his death, and not performed ever. It had been an agony to face the family past -- "each guilty and at the same time innocent," O'Neill wrote a friend, "scorning, loving, pitying each other, understanding and yet not understanding at all, forgiving but still doomed never to be able to forget" -- and he did not want his baggage passed on to his son just yet, even as art.

Just two years after O'Neill's death in 1953, Carlotta had the script withdrawn from Random House, and donated to Yale University, with a view to publication and production. She pointed to the son's suicide, and to a claim that O'Neill had given her permission to publish should she need the money; the biographers point to her inflated view of her needs -- for money, power or praise. Perhaps she too felt the need for unburdening: "Will I ever be able to free myself of this man -- and the love I felt for him!" she wrote in a November 1955 letter.

The world premiere of "Long Day's Journey Into Night" was in Stockholm, in a Swedish translation, the following February, with the off-Broadway American premiere that November. The audiences were moved to tears and standing ovations, the reviewers saw the "saga of the damned" as going beyond personal pain to "epic literature" and the playwright received a posthumous Pulitzer, his fourth.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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