WHEN William Vaughn Moody's The Great Divide was produced in New York in 1906 it was for a time hailed as the great American drama. It not only enjoyed success on this side of the Atlantic, but was played in London as representative of life in the great open spaces of western America.
Reading the play today, it is hard to realize that so crude a representation of life, whether eastern or western, could have passed either for truth or good drama; and that a play so unskillfully constructed and poor in characterization could have achieved the success accredited to The Great Divide. Perhaps the real reason was that Easterners, particularly New Yorkers, were so hazy about any sort of life west of Pittsburgh that they credulously accepted almost anything as "truthful representation."
The play reaches its climax in the middle of the first act and from then on the author is hard put to hold our interest until the curtain drops on the final scene. The Great Divide, however, deserves mention in that it blazed the way for plays that used something other than the conventional "drawing room" settings and characters from middle and upper class life.
Moody's parents died while he was still a boy. He worked his way through prep school and later through Harvard University. There he acted as assistant in English during 1894-5. In 1895 he received an appointment as an instructor at the University of Chicago, and in 1901 was promoted to an assistant professorship which he held until 1903. In 1902 he collaborated in a book, A First View of English and American Literature, but this sort of writing was drudgery and done only that he might gain money to help his family to better things.
Moody's real interest lay in poetry. His three poetic dramas, The Masque of Judgment (1900), The Fire Bringer (1904), and The Death of Eve (incomplete at the author's death), entitle him to a high place in American literature. All three are notable for richness of rhythm and a fine lyric sense. Moody's one other produced play, The Faith Healer (1909) attracted some attention but was not a dramatic success. It is possible, however, that had he not been cut off in his prime, Moody might have attained real success as a playwright.
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