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Family Reunion, The

play furies harry eliot

a play by T. S. Eliot, first performed in 1939, a modern variation on the Orestes story. Harry Lord Monchensey returns to his house, Wishwood, obsessed with the idea that he has killed the manic-depressive wife who was emotionally destroying him, and convinced that he is pursued by ‘sleepless hunters that will not let me sleep’. In this loveless, ossified place, he eventually learns that it was his father, not he, who plotted to escape from an oppressive marriage through murder. He rejects the comfortable but stultifying roles offered him by his cold and powerful mother and the other members of his family, embraces the guilt he has inherited while renouncing the remorse he had felt, and leaves to become a missionary, encouraged by Furies he now realizes to be benign, not vindictive. Though the setting is the kind of upper-class drawing room all too familiar to London audiences of the first half of the twentieth century, the subject is a highly unusual one—spiritual self-discovery—and the form equally original. The dialogue consists almost entirely of poetry, itself notable for its bleak, chilly imagery; Harry's uncles and aunts are intermittently transformed into a chorus, commenting fearfully on the action in the Aeschylan mode; and the Furies themselves make a brief appearance. Though Eliot himself later wrote critically of these last two dramatic elements, and was never so adventurous in his subsequent drama, later performances of the play have shown that they may be readily accepted by a generation more accustomed to imaginative theatrical effects and incongruities of style.

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