25 January (1920): Eugene O'Neill to Agnes Boulton O'Neill

Agnes Boulton and Eugene O’Neill were married from 1918 to 1929. In the 1910s, Boulton was a successful pulp fiction writer, and in 1958—almost thirty years after her divorce from O’Neill—she published a memoir of the first two years of their marriage, Part of a Long Story.



January 25, 1920, New York

My Own:  Your letter of Friday received when I got up this morning. Perhaps a lot of the points you make in it are true enough—from your standpoint—But, Oh God!, My Own, the tragedy which overwhelms me in all our bickering is this: If you and I, who love each other so much, who have been through so many fundamental life-experiences successfully together; if, at this so crucial moment of our union, we cannot keep petty hate from creeping into our souls like the condemned couples in a Strindberg play; if our letters are to become an added torture to our hearts already tortured by separation and by the mishaps of outside shame; if we cannot stand back to back to face failure or the equally fatal possibilities contained in success; if the morale at home cannot reinforce the morale at the front when that falters, and vice-versa—then we are lost; and my only remaining hope is that the “Flu,” or some other material cause, will speedily save me the decision which would inevitably have to come at my own instance. If you and I are but another dream that passes, then I desire nothing further from the Great Sickness but release.

I am supposed to make some little cuts on the first scene of Chris today. Your letter has put over the K.O. I’m “out” temporarily—until I get another letter from you and, let me hope, a kinder one. You don’t have to be hypocritical to be kind, do you? Your letter may have been true; but, where love is concerned, isn’t kindness greater than truth? And do you think that greater kindness is a product of—a “flat surface wife?” There may be depths—of love—in that—

As for my letter to you which drove you to the response you made, if you had written your good advice first and the way you felt last, I would have remembered only the last. As it was—vice-versa—I wrote on the spur of the moment remembering only the good advice—(which we all hate!). You might have known all this—if you knew me.

The “Flu” has already caused an official regulation of theatre opening hours. You can imagine what it is doing to the attendance. Ah well, there has been all through history a curse which, after minor victories, through no fault of their own, always smites the O’Neills at the wrong moment. The Curse of the Red Hand of Ulster!

But all this is puerile—and aside. Your letter was gall when I prayed for wine. You always have kicked me when I was down,—do you realize that!—you did not mean to, of course, but you always have.




To read Bourton’s account of their marriage, Part of a Long Story, click here.