William Inge was fundamentally a dramatist. Atlantic/Little, Brown published two of his novels, Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff (1970) and My Son Is a Splendid Driver (1971). Bantam published his earlier scenario for Splendor in the Grass (1961). The manuscript of his final novel, “The Boy from the Circus,” was found on a table in his living room after his suicide. The manuscript had been rejected by a New York publisher and returned to him; he had not opened the envelope containing it. His two published novels and his first screenplay are set in Kansas and are populated by the same sort of lonely, frustrated people found in his major dramas.
Although William Inge cannot be said to have advanced the technique of modern drama, as Eugene O’Neill did, he was the first notable American dramatist to write seriously and sensitively about the Midwest, much in the tradition of Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson among novelists, of Carl Sandburg and Edgar Lee Masters among poets, and of Grant Wood among painters. Inge’s first five Broadway plays—Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and A Loss of Roses—are set in the Midwest and examine in believable and accurate detail the pent-up frustrations of living in the sort of midwestern small towns that Inge knew intimately from his childhood and youth. The Liberty of some of his plays is the Independence, Kansas, of his childhood; great irony underlies his choice of that place-name.
The decade beginning in 1950 was a remarkable one for Inge. It is unique for an unknown playwright to emerge on Broadway with the sort of critical and commercial success that Come Back, Little Sheba commanded and then to be able to produce in rapid-fire succession three more commercial triumphs. Inge did just this, following the 1950 production of Come Back, Little Sheba with Picnic in 1953, Bus Stop in 1955, and The Dark at the Top of the Stairs in 1957. Come Back, Little Sheba ran for 190 performances; the next three plays ran for more than 450 performances apiece.
Come Back, Little Sheba won for its author an award from the New York critics as the most promising playwright of the season. Picnic won the Pulitzer Prize , a New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Donaldson Award, which it shared with Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (pr., pb. 1953). Even...
Centola, Steven R. “Compromise as Bad Faith: Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and William Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba.” Midwest Quarterly 28 (Autumn, 1986): 100-113. A Freudian analysis of Arthur Miller’s and Inge’s themes and characters in these two plays. Focuses on the “corrosive effect” of compromise when linked to sexual repression. Notes the irony of Sigmund Freud’s assertion that repression is necessary to safeguard society when juxtaposed to Miller and Inge’s picture of the destructive effects of repression in their characters’ lives.
Leeson, Richard M. William Inge: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. A study that focuses on the stage history and production of Inge’s works. Contains plot summaries.
McClure, Arthur F. Memories of Splendor: The Midwestern World of William Inge. Topeka: Kansas State Historical Society, 1989. The focus is the “regional quality” of Inge’s work. Unusual features include photographs and posters from stage and film productions and reminiscences from those who served as models for Inge’s characters and from actors who played them.
McClure, Arthur F., and C. David Rice, eds. A Bibliographical Guide to the Works of William Inge, 1913-1973. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1991. An attempt to “present a complete picture of Inge’s work as a teacher, journalist and author.” Divided into works by Inge, including his journalistic articles and reviews; biographical information, among them obituaries; critical articles and reviews of Inge’s work; and brief chapters on his forays into film and television. Sporadic annotations.
Shuman, R. Baird. William Inge. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1989. An updated version of Shuman’s 1965 book, this volume focuses primarily on summarizing and analyzing the plays. Shuman’s stated goal is “to present a balanced view of William Inge and show the inroads public expectations make upon the private and creative life” of a sensitive artist.
Voss, Ralph F. A Life of William Inge. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989. A carefully researched “reconstruction” of Inge’s life, with numerous photographs, most of Inge at various stages of life. Voss’s examination reveals a troubled man whose life was a “pattern” of secrecy, especially concerning his homosexuality and alcoholism. Voss concludes, “‘Inge Country’ was never just the state of Kansas or the midwestern prairies [but] almost always a troubled state of mind.”