DAYS WITHOUT END by Eugene O’Neill

This play is a failure and I am absolutely thrilled I read it. Ever since I read the chapter on O’Neill in Robert Brustein’s masterpiece The Theatre of Revolt, I had wanted to read Days Without End.  Honestly, I cannot say why this was. Brustein generally trashed the play, as he did most of O’Neill’s early works. However, he did seem to think Days was vitally important to an understanding of how O’Neill eventually achieved the glory of his last plays. Brustein is always persuasive and frequently right. However, he has made some pretty major mistakes such as not recognizing Samuel Beckett’s importance. He admitted that particular error. In any event, I take anything Brustein says seriously but never consider it the final word. Something about Brustein’s brief description of Days and the fact that the play is almost completely forgotten, captured my imagination. Perhaps this was a lost gem. Well, it was—but VERY far from perfect.  Days is sincere and moving but hopeless in theatrical terms. After reading it, I am more convinced than ever that O’Neill’s true literary talent was novelistic in nature. The long descriptions of characters, the epic plots, the overly detailed settings would all make more sense in novels. It is quite telling that the protagonist of Days is engaged in writing a novel. It might have achieved true greatness in that form. This is true of several of his plays. Of course, O’Neill eventually mastered the dramatic form but I don’t think it came naturally to him. Kind of reminds me of a child being forced to write with his right hand. On a more philosophical level,  Days Without End seems like an endorsement of Roman Catholicism. In reality, O’Neill (wisely, in this atheist’s opinion) never fully returned to the faith of his childhood.  Days actually represents both his realization that the radical ideologies of his day had little to offer humanity and his feeling that orthodox religion, while equally false, had more lasting appeal. Since even a badly flawed O’Neill play like this one usually makes good reading, I can wholeheartedly recommend Days Without End.  It is a troubled but powerful and stimulating work by a great writer.

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