Vows, Veils, and Masks offers a bold and timely approach to the plays of Eugene O’Neill with its attention to the engagements, weddings, and marriages so crucial to the tragic action in O’Neill’s works. Specifically, the book examines the culturally sanctioned traditions and gender roles that underscored marital life in the early twentieth century, and that still haunt and define love and partnership in the modern age.
Weaving in artifacts like advice columns, advertisements, theatrical reviews, and even the lived experiences of the actors who brought O’Neill’s wife characters to life, Beth Wynstra points to new ways of seeing and empathizing with those who are betrothed and new possibilities for reading marriage in literary and dramatic works. She suggests that the various ways women were, and still are, expected to divert from their true ambitions, desires, and selves in the service of appropriate wifely behavior is a detrimental performance and one at the crux of O’Neill’s marital tragedies. This book invites more inclusive and nuanced ways of thinking about the choices married characters must make and the roles they play, both on and off the stage.
“Due to her fresh approach to womanhood in O’Neill’s plays, Wynstra contributes to the rejuvenation of the studies on the playwright. She convincingly makes her case against the restrictive labeling of female/male behaviors in O’Neill’s pieces and deconstructs an analytical trend, which tends to disregard the cultural patterns that underpinned marital life.”—Emeline Jouve, author, Unspeakable Acts: Murder by Women
“Wynstra argues persuasively against common notions of women/wives as ‘villains’ in many of O’Neill’s plays, and provides a cultural context that defines them more sympathetically. Her book offers a timely and compelling contribution to O’Neill studies and American theatre history. Its contemporary cultural relevance on gender-based social issues extends its appeal to an even broader audience.”—Steven F. Bloom, author, Student Companion to Eugene O’Neill