Eugene O'Neill: Life, Work, and Criticism


48 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-919966-55-1





Reviewed by Renate Usmiani

Renate Usmiani was Professor of English at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax.


It is no easy task to do justice to the vast and complex opus of Eugene O’Neill within the restricted format of the York series; this study achieves it with elegance and academic rigor. The six-page biography covers O’Neill’s family entanglements first, his artistic growth second, showing how his powerful theatrical metaphors are grounded in personal experience. In his critical discussion of the plays, the author examines the one-act plays first, then gives a division of the longer plays by style (realism, expressionism, romantic mysticism), followed by a brief summary and analysis of individual works. In spite of their brevity, these individual discussions convey remarkably thoughtful insights into the plays as well as positive and negative critical evaluations. In his concluding chapter, “O’Neill’s Achievement,” Hirsch recognizes the intrinsic significance of the entire O’Neill opus in a historical context, while pointing out that a number of the plays can no longer claim theatrical validity — The Fountain, Welded, Lazarus Laughed,and Dynamo are singled out as “resounding failures.” The works that remain stageworthy Hirsch considers “an extraordinary group ... the legacy of America’s foremost playwright.” A chronological list of plays, an annotated bibliography, and an index complete this eminently useful and unusually readable text.



Hirsch, Foster, “Eugene O'Neill: Life, Work, and Criticism,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,