(Churchwell’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/30.)
In June 1922, F Scott Fitzgerald received a letter from his friend Edmund Wilson, in which he described meeting Eugene O'Neill: "He is an extraordinarily attractive fellow," Wilson wrote. "I find with gratification that he regards Anna Christie as more or less junk and thinks it is a great joke that it won the Pulitzer prize. His genius seems to be only just becoming properly articulate." By 1922, the 34-year-old O'Neill had already won the Pulitzer prize for drama twice and done nothing less than reinvent – or rather invent – legitimate American theatre. But Wilson was, as usual, correct: O'Neill was still finding his voice; his greatest plays, The Iceman Cometh, A Moon for the Misbegotten and the magnificent Long Day's Journey into Night, which many consider the pinnacle of 20th-century American theatre, were yet to come. Audiences will soon have the opportunity to judge Long Day's Journey into Night for themselves, as a revival of O'Neill's masterpiece, starring David Suchet as the father, James Tyrone, opens in the West End next week, exactly 100 years after the play is set.