Boulton, Agnes (1893–1968)

views updated

Boulton, Agnes (1893–1968)

English-born writer, second wife of Eugene O'Neill, and mother of Oona O'Neill Chaplin. Name variations: Agnes Boulton O'Neill. Born in London, England, on September 19, 1893; died in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, on November 25, 1968; daughter of Edward W. Boulton (a painter); sister of Margery Boulton; married a man named Burton; married Eugene O'Neill (the playwright), on April 12, 1918 (divorced 1929); married Morris Kaufman (a freelance writer); children: (first marriage) Barbara Burton; (second marriage) Shane Rudraighe O'Neill (b. October 30, 1919);Oona O'Neill Chaplin (b. May 14, 1925).

Agnes Boulton, along with her three younger sisters, grew up in a progressive and artistic atmosphere fostered by her father, a painter, and her emancipated mother. Born in London where her parents were staying, Boulton grew up in Philadelphia, as well as New Jersey and New York. It is said that playwright Eugene O'Neill was drawn to her because she resembled his early love Louise Bryant . "But where Louise was charged with nervous energy, carried herself proudly and dressed vividly," writes Louis Sheaffer, "Agnes was quiet, softly feminine, and favored subtle colors." The couple met soon after Boulton had arrived in the city as a young widow determined to support herself, her parents, and her two-year-old daughter left behind on a farm she owned in Connecticut. From the age of 17, Boulton had been selling stories to better magazines and pulps, including Black Cat, Cavalier, the Evening World, and had just earned $150 on a novelette. But because neither the farm nor her writing were monetarily sufficient, she was looking for a day job. Soon a denizen of Greenwich Village, she fell in love with and was habitually seen on the arm of young O'Neill. Catholic journalist Dorothy Day was often on the other arm. "I was in love with his work," said Day, "while Agnes was in love with him. She had a great sweetness."

Agnes Boulton wrote of those early years in her book Part of a Long Story (Doubleday, 1958). "Overall a fine achievement," writes Sheaffer, "it gives a vivid, persuasive portrait of her onetime husband and recalls with considerable sensitivity a bygone bohemia of Greenwich Village and Provincetown." Boulton also wrote the highly praised The Road Is Before Us.


Sheaffer, Louis. O'Neill: Son and Playwright. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969; O'Neill: Son and Artist. Little, Brown, 1973.