Study Guide

James T. Farrell

James T. Farrell Essay - Farrell, James T.

Farrell, James T.

Introduction

James T. Farrell 1904-1979

American short story writer, novelist, essayist, and editor.

Closely identified with the naturalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, Farrell is best known for those works which demonstrate the consequences of environment upon character. An intellectual who embraced aspects of both pragmatism and communism, Farrell wrote convincingly of America's harsh social realities, those forces which circumscribe the destinies of ordinary individuals. Although Farrell was often faulted for a graceless and reportorial style, he was widely praised for his detailed depictions of urban life—the south side of Chicago in particular—and his realistic characterizations. Above all, Farrell's work has been acclaimed for its sincerity and vitality; Alfred Kazin has said of his writing, ". . . scene by scene, character by character, Farrell's books are built by force rather than imagination, and it is the laboriously contrived solidity, the perfect literalness of each representation, that give his work its density and harsh power."

Biographical Information

Farrell was born to first-generation Irish Catholic immigrants. His parents were working-class people with little income. One of many siblings, Farrell, at age three, was sent to live with his wealthier maternal grandparents on Chicago's south side. At age twenty-one, he enrolled at the University of Chicago where he discovered the works of pragmatists George H. Mead and John Dewey, in addition to those of Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway. Encouraged to write by his professors, Farrell wrote literary criticism and a number of short stories, including "Studs," a story based on Farrell's observations of a dissolute youth who squandered his life. From this story grew the Studs Lonigan trilogy, which later received serious critical attention and acclaim. After a year in Paris, during which Farrell found further encouragement from the expatriate writer Ezra Pound, Farrell settled in New York City where he rapidly became part of the intellectual circle, which included writers Nathanael West and Archibald MacLeish, literary critic Kenneth Burke, and Marxist critic Granville Hicks. Farrell continued to write stories and novels with Chicago as the cultural milieu, but his experiences in Paris and New York City enabled him to expand his portrayal of urban life and its effects on city dwellers. During the 1930s Farrell published stories, essays, and reviews in many journals; additionally, he wrote a volume of literary criticism, the acclaimed Studs Lonigan novels and several Danny O'Neill novels. Farrell won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1936, and in 1937 he won a censorship case concerning his novel A World I Never Made. Actively involved throughout his life in a number of labor, civil rights, and writers' organizations, Farrell traveled and lectured widely on their behalf. An enormously prolific writer, Farrell published seventeen short story collections and twenty-five novels during his career. At the time of his death, Farrell had completed the eleventh volume of a new cycle of novels, short stories, and poems, entitled "A Universe of Time." Originally projected to run to thirty volumes, this cycle, like his previous fiction, was to present significant experiences from his personal past, but from a maturer perspective.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Farrell is principally known for his novels, particularly the Studs Lonigan trilogy, but his short stories are considered an essential part of his fiction writing. Farrell's fiction was greatly influenced by his own cultural and material background as an Irish-Catholic in a working-class Chicago neighborhood. Farrell's vision of the city environment is ambivalent, for he recognized both its opportunities for individual growth and its limitations. In his first collection of short stories, Calico Shoes and Other Stories (1934), Farrell established a pattern that he would follow throughout his career, namely the reusing and interweaving of characters, incidents, themes, and settings from one story to the next, in his novels as well as in his short story collections. Thus, it is difficult to discuss his stories singly, for each story is a small element of his human panorama. Best known among these recurring characters are Studs Lonigan, Danny O'Neill of the "O'Neill-O'Flaherty series," and Bernard Carr of the Bernard Cantrilogy. Danny O'Neill, for example, who is considered the most autobiographical of Farrell's characters, appears in fifty stories, as either a central or minor character. Farrell's admirers have noted that this reusing of characters has a cumulative effect, allowing the reader to have a fuller understanding of his characters. Similarly, Farrell's return to the same themes—isolation, futility, hopelessness, frustration, as well as free will, creativity, freedom, and regeneration—deepens and enriches the overall import of his writing.

Farrell's short stories, like his novels, generally focus on the impoverishment of the human spirit under the oppressive conditions of daily urban life. The protagonists of his fiction seek escape from their drab and lonely lives by turning to alcohol, sex, violence, or, as in the case of Danny O'Neill and Bernard Carr, through writing. An important novella demonstrating Farrell's theme of spiritual impoverishment is Tommy Gallagher's Crusade, in which a frustrated youth who is unable to hold a job, becomes prey to the demagoguery of a fascist priest and takes to hawking inflammatory papers on street corners. The story also illustrates Farrell's principal narrative technique which, like Hemingway's, relies heavily on dialogue as a way to advance the story's action and to reveal character. Although a number of scholars have objected to the slang and pedestrian quality of Farrell's style, most critics have agreed that Farrell's realistic and graphic use of the street vernacular effectively contributes to the credibility of his characterization. His later writing demonstrates a continued preoccupation with earlier characters, but also a broadened worldview as Farrell incorporated intellectuals, Hollywood producers and actors, and European characters and locales into his short fiction. The same themes resound, but with a deeper emphasis on the paradoxical nature of time and its effects on individual lives. Farrell's last collection of short stories, Olive and Mary Anne, repeats the themes of despair, futility, and nostalgia in its grim portrayal of bad marriages, promiscuity, and failed careers. A minor character in one of these stories is Eddie Ryan, an autobiographical character of the uncompleted series, "A Universe of Time," who treads an uneven path to self-discovery and self-fulfillment as a writer. His appearance in both the novels of "A Universe of Time" and in the short stories underscores Farrell's attempt to provide a continuous and interwoven narrative that would chart the progress and struggles of an American individual against the debasing social conditions of his environment.

Critical Reception

Farrell was immediately recognized as an important new voice with the publication of the Studs Lonigan novels. These novels established him as a leading practitioner of American naturalism, but it was a label that limited the recognition of his artistic achievements. Farrell himself took issue with the view of his work as imitative and rigidly deterministic, stating "I've never been the economic determinist that critics have made me. I first read [Emile] Zola in 1937 [after the publication of Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy in 1935]. I have a functional conception of environment and character; I don't believe in environment over character or anything like that." The issue of Farrell's determinism has remained a central critical debate. Those who disagree with this narrow categorizing of Farrell point to his literary criticism wherein he asserts that literature is a liberating force, allowing one to escape the social forces that threaten individual integrity; in his literary manifestos, Farrell emphasizes free will and the capacity for freedom, ideas which his supporters argue are amply illustrated through the achievements of his writer-characters who are stimulated to success by these same restrictive forces.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Farrell's work was attacked by moralistic critics who condemned his use of obscene dialogue, resulting in a number of censorship cases which Farrell successfully fought. Marxist critics too inveighed against Farrell's writing, in retaliation for Farrell's outspoken criticism of using literature as an instrument of Communist propaganda. Later critics discredited his writing for its lack of symbolism or allegorical meaning. Lastly, Farrell's work has been faulted for its repetitiveness, his critics observing that his stories offer only endless reworkings of familiar ideas and characters. Robert Morss Lovett, in his introduction to a 1937 collection of short stories, likewise asserted that in many cases, Farrell's "short stories are chips off the blocks of his novels." Yet as Edgar Branch, in James T. Farrell, has observed of Farrell's work, ". . . the weaknesses sometimes [are] the defects of the strengths." Farrell's supporters note that his strengths are his trenchant ability to present faithfully the idiom of his subjects, his skill in realistic characterization, the comprehensiveness of his moral and artistic vision, and his earnest explorations of the relationship of the individual to modern society. In an incisive commentary, Joseph Warren Beach notes, in American Fiction (1920-1940), the complexities—and the appeal—of Farrell's art: "Farrell's type of naturalism is not of a kind to appeal to the common run of readers. It has little to offer those who go to fiction for light entertainment, the glamour of the stage, or the gratification of their bent for wishful thinking . . . But there will always be a sufficient number of those whom life and thought have ripened and disciplined, who have a taste for truth however unvarnished provided it be honestly viewed, deeply pondered, and imaginatively rendered." The truth that Farrell explored in all of his fiction was the stark realities of the American way of life.

Principal Works

Short Fiction

*Calico Shoes and Other Stories 1934; published in Great

Britain as Seventeen and Other Stories, 1959

*Guillotine Party and Other Stories 1935

*Can All This Grandeur Perish? and Other Stories 1937

Tommy Gallagher's Crusade (novella) 1939

$1000 a Week and Other Stories 1942

Fifteen Selected Stories 1943

To Whom It May Concern and Other Stories 1944; also published as More Stories, 1946

Twelve Great Stories 1945

More Fellow Countrymen 1946...

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Criticism

Louis Kronenberger (review date 1934)

SOURCE: "Ungenteel Irony," in The Nation, Vol. 139, No. 3615, October 17, 1934, p. 458.

[In the following assessment of Farrell's first collection, Kronenberger praises the harsh realism of Farrell's characterization.]

Although no single story in [Calico Shoes] is particularly impressive, the book as a whole carries weight. Mr. Farrell writes about people he knows, and whose background he knows, inside out; and to this initial merit of being saturated with his material he adds a second, of handling it with an honest sobriety that makes it stick in your memory and register on your mind. He is in no sense a finished or ingratiating story-teller; except for...

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The Saturday Review of Literature (review date 1934)

SOURCE: A review of Calico Shoes and Other Stories, in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XI, No. 15, October 27, 1934, p. 250.

[In the following excerpt, the reviewer observes that Farrell's writing is marred by his inclusion of unnecessary details and facts from his own experiences.]

Though he possesses certain literary attributes that make almost everything he writes distinctly worth reading, he has not as yet transcended limitations that have so far kept the greater part of his work from being thoroughly satisfactory and first-rate.

His virtues are many: a satisfactory facility with his medium, an almost dictaphonic ear for the speech...

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Lionel Trilling (review date 1935)

SOURCE: "Studs Lonigan's World," in The Nation, Vol. 141, No. 3668, October 23, 1935, pp. 484-85.

[In this excerpted review of Guillotine Party and Other Stories, Trilling describes Farrell's artistic vision as inadequate to the task of exploring the complexities of modern life.]

Almost all Mr. Farrell's short stories deal with the milieu of the Studs Lonigan trilogy and might almost be chapters of those admirable novels. Indeed, one of the stories is, as Mr. Farrell tells us, the seed from which the cycle grew, and the whole collection seems to be made up of gleanings from the major work.

There can be no doubt of the importance of Farrell's...

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Alfred Kazin (review date 1937)

SOURCE: "The Bitter Bread of James T. Farrell," in The New York Herald Tribune Books, May 17, 1937, p. 6.

[In the following review of Can All This Grandeur Perish? and Other Stories, Kazin finds much to condemn and praise in Farrell's short stories; repulsed by the sordidness of Farrell's soulless characters, he is nonetheless intrigued by the brutal honesty of his characterizations.]

There are seventeen stories in this volume, and most of them are crumbs from Mr. Farrell's usually lavish table. Whether you will find them nourishing or not, however, depends a good deal on whether you find Mr. Farrell's bitter bread palatable at all. If you feel that it is...

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Otis Ferguson (review date 1937)

SOURCE: A review of The Short Stories of James T. Farrell, in The New Republic, Vol. 93, No. 1197, November 10, 1937, p. 22.

[In the following estimation of Farrell's collection, Ferguson dismisses Farrell's short stories for their squalor and slovenly technique.]

I got a new slant on the writings of James Farrell recently, from some chaps who were no nearer the intellectual world than their own hard wisdom, and perhaps the wiser for that. They read about Studs because they had grown up in the same Chicago. "You read that Studs book?" they said. "Well all that stuff it's got in that book, I'm telling you that's really the truth, man." Part of their...

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Robert Morss Lovett (essay date 1937)

SOURCE: "Introduction," in The Short Stories of James T. Farrell, The Vanguard Press, 1937, pp. xv-xxvii.

[In the excerpt below, Lovett discusses Farrell's commitment to present truthfully his observations of people under the pressures of demoralizing circumstances and decaying human institutions.]

Five years ago the name of James Farrell was unknown. Today it is read on the title pages of five novels, three volumes of short shories, and a challenging book of criticism. . . . He is among the foremost in the group of younger writers who are taking the stage in succession to those whom we already think of as the old guard: Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, Sinclair...

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Milton Rugoff (review date 1939)

SOURCE: "Our Own Storm Trooper: A Long, Short Story That Traces the Background of a Crusade of Hate," in The New York Herald Tribune Books, October 15, 1939, p. 6.

[Below, Rugoff finds Farrell's novella Tommy Gallagher's Crusade a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the mindless hatred that characterized the growing Fascist movement in America during the 1930s.]

Of all the symptoms in America which have been referred to as Fascist the one which indicates most conclusively that the cancerous disease now eating at the vitals of Europe has come here, is that of the men and women who stand on street corners in New York and other cities selling a paper pledged to...

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E. S. Forgotson (review date 1942)

SOURCE: "Out of the Many, One," in The Nation, Vol. 154, No. 25, June 30, 1942, pp. 716-18.

[In this review, Forgotson admires those stories in $1000 A Week and Other Stories that provide the reader with some understanding of the human experience, but states that the majority of the stories lack significance.]

The items of this volume work by a wide variety of methods. In the simplest distinction, there is the fact that one "story," "G. B. S. Interviews the Pope," has the force of a dramatic dialogue between the irresistible force and the immovable object named; another consists of nothing more than the near side of a telephone conversation. Somewhat less...

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Herbert Kupferberg (review date 1944)

SOURCE: "Thirteen Farrell Tales," in The New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, June 4, 1944, p. 13.

[In the following review of To Whom It May Concern and Other Stories, Kupferberg contends that Farrell's style and ideas are most successful in his longer works.]

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Nathan L. Rothman (review date 1946)

SOURCE: "A Capacity for Nothing," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXIX, No. 45, November 9, 1946, p. 20.

[In the following review, Rothman deplores the pessimism and spiritual sterility characterizing Farrell's collection of short stories When Boyhood Dreams Come True and Other Stories.]

The Studs Lonigan trilogy is in many ways a great piece of work; and the Danny O'Neill tetralogy, although it is less sustained, contains large sections of intense, imaginative, sometimes brilliant writing. That is why so many of us have regarded Mr. Farrell's later books with increasing dismay. The novels and the short stories that have come from him since then have...

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William Brown (review date 1947)

SOURCE: A review of The Short Stories of James T. Farrell, in The Canadian Forum, Vol. XXVI, No. 313, February, 1947, pp. 260-61.

[In the following excerpt, Brown argues that Farrell, despite frequent stylistic infelicities, remains an important writer who asks crucial questions about the direction and consequences of American capitalism.]

For readers of Farrell there is nothing new in the excellent Penguin selection of 13 stories. Dating from 1928 to 1943, they serve to remind us once again of the continuity of Farrell's work. Alone of the major figures of the 'thirties he has forged steadily ahead, undisturbed by the shifting winds of doctrine—or by the...

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Richard Match (review date 1947)

SOURCE: "Farrell in Perspective," in The New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, Vol. 24, No. 9, October 19, 1947, p. 5.

[In the following assessment of The Life Adventurous and Other Stories, Match observes that Farrell's writing, as a whole, provides an honest and compelling vision of American lower-class society.]

A taste for the realistic fiction of James T. Farrell is like a taste for sea food.

This reviewer, who happens to like the Farrell brand of realism, will concede that the author of Studs Lonigan has his blind spots, but there seems no reason to insist that any one imaginative writer encompass all of America in his work....

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John J. Maloney (review date 1950)

SOURCE: "Mr. Farrell Hits to Several Fields," in The New York Herald Tribune Book Review, Vol. 27, No. 15, November 26, 1950, p. 4.

[In the following estimation of An American Dream Girl, Maloney states that Farrell possesses a place in American literary history not for his technique or style, but for the directness and power of his vision.]

Baseball is James T. Farrell's hobby. I do not know who his particular heroes are in this field, but much of my respect is reserved for unendowed men like Lou Boudreau and Eddie Stanky, who have, by sheer force of will, shouldered their way into the ranks of supremely endowed men like Stan Musial and Joe DiMaggio. Much of my...

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Nelson Algren (review date 1950)

SOURCE: "Case Study of Dreams," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXXIII, No. 49, December 9, 1950, p. 16.

[In the following review of An American Dream Girl, Algren argues that Farrell's lack of emotional involvement in his writing is an artistic failing.]

"Work, senseless dates, fears, terrors, with near breakdowns every six months," Farrell describes the dream-girl of his title story, "she would go to bed and there lie in terror of something unreal and unseen, and she would get up at all hours and take taxicabs just to be with anyone who would lie with her and hold her . . . tell her she was a good girl and that she wasn't alone. This was her life."...

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Frank O'Malley (essay date 1952)

SOURCE: "James T. Farrell: Two Twilight Images," in Fifty Years of the American Novel: A Christian Appraisal, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1952, pp. 237-56.

[In the excerpt below, O'Malley argues that Farrell's fictional world is unremittingly bleak and spiritually degenerate, the result of a decayed civilization and an impoverished Catholicism.]

The fiction of Farrell is likely to bring immediately to mind a well-known figure imagined by the literary historian Taine: in this figure men are seen as field-mice being trampled to death by elephant herds, which portray the brutal forces of nature and civilization. Surely the people who stir about in Farrell's books seem as...

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C. Hartley Grattan (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: "James T. Farrell: Moralist," in Harper's Magazine, Vol. 209, No. 1253, October, 1954, pp. 93-4, 96, 98.

[In this excerpt, Grattan describes Farrell as an optimistic moralist who believes in man's entitlement to freedom.]

At fifty James Thomas Farrell begins to show some of the burnish of an "old master" and if he is still a bit hagridden by the identification, "author of Studs Lonigan," it is becoming commoner to recognize that he has written other fine novels, and his latest—The Face of Time—rings as true as a well-cast bell. Yet there is an element of ambiguity in the recognition now being accorded him which Horace Gregory has lately tried...

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Hugh Holman (review date 1955)

SOURCE: "The Naturalism of James T. Farrell," in The New Republic, Vol. 133, No. 26, December 26, 1955, pp. 18-19.

[In the following excerpted review of French Girls Are Vicious and Other Stories, Holman points out that although Farrell's primary weaknesses are his naturalistic narrative technique and flat use of language, his chief strength is his unflinching and powerful honesty.]

Mr. Farrell's new book [French Girls Are Vicious and Other Stories] is a collection of nine short stories, four with settings in Europe and five in America. The title must have been selected for the paper-back reprint certain to appear soon; for Farrell is one of the...

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Frank Getlein (review date 1956)

SOURCE: A review of French Girls Are Vicious and Other Stories, in Commonweal, Vol. 63, January 27, 1956, pp. 436-37.

[Below, Getlein argues that Farrell's commitment to truth, his humility, and his compassion outweigh any stylistic defects.]

In the longest of these nine short stories, "Ruth and Bertram," we find Bert, at the end, comfortably into bourgeois middle age after a youth of dissipation with Ruth. Like most of Mr. Farrell's people, Bert is a simple soul, and, as often in this volume, we walk right into his mind and let him reveal himself to us while the author invites us to smile ironically with him. In his exquisitely decorated apartment high above...

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James T. Farrell (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: "Farrell on His Writing," in Hearing Out James T. Farrell: Selected Lectures, The Smith, 1985, pp. 142-54.

[In the following excerpt from a 1957 lecture at Miami University, Farrell discusses the major influences on his writing, his opinions on authorial intentions and aesthetics, and his perspective on writers of the 1920s and 1930s.]

I feel a little bit shy talking about my own fiction. I have lectured so often that I have run out of subject matter, and I let Professor Branch more or less inveigle me into agreeing to speak about my writing. But I think that if I am very honest with you I probably will not serve my own interests, at least financially; because...

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William Peden (review date 1957)

SOURCE: 'The Special World of James T. Farrell," in The New York Times Book Review, December 1, 1957, p. 66.

[In the following review of A Dangerous Woman and Other Stories, Peden observes that Farrell's later fiction shows greater humor and more variety than his earlier fiction.]

Among the best pieces in James T. Farrell's new collection of twelve stories and a short novel are several set in the Chicago of a generation ago, which is so specifically "Farrell country" that today it is almost impossible to linger at the corner of Prairie Avenue and Fifty-eighth Street without thinking of it in terms of Farrell's fiction.

Here again are the...

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Herbert Kupferberg (review date 1957)

SOURCE: "Farrell Stories With a Wider Range," in The New York Herald Tribune Book Review, Vol. 34, No. 20, December 22, 1957, p. 8.

[Below, Kupferberg notes the wider range of Farrell's fiction in A Dangerous Woman and Other Stories as the author incorporates a gallery of new European characters and locales into his work.]

For those who are statistically-minded this collection of fourteen short stories [A Dangerous Woman and Other Stories] represents the twenty-fifth book of fiction published by James T. Farrell. While it would certainly be an exaggeration to say that No. 25 is indistinguishable from No. 1, readers of the more stark and bitter of...

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James T. Farrell (essay date 1969)

SOURCE: Introduction to Childhood Is Not Forever, Doubleday & Company, 1969, pp. vii-viii.

[In this essay, Farrell answers those critics who question autobiographical elements of his work.]

I began, not as a novelist, but as a short story writer. For more than two years after I had decided to become a writer, I worked to write publishable short stories. Long before I had completed the first volume of the Studs Lonigan trilogy, my short stories had received recognition.

Ezra Pound tried to get me a publisher for four of my stories which he himself had selected. Had he succeeded, Young Lonigan would not have been my first book.

...

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Robert Phillips (review date 1970)

SOURCE: A review of Childhood Is Not Forever and Other Stories, in The North American Review, Vol. 255, No. 1, Spring, 1970, pp. 73-5.

[In the following excerpted review, Phillips observes that several of Farrell's more recent short stories are among his best short fiction.]

Childhood Is Not Forever [is] a selection of stories written largely in the 1950s. While all the tales are not as impressive as the last novel [A Brand New Life], or many of Farrell's fine earlier stories such as "The Scarecrow" and "Calico Shoes", the collection does not deserve the indifference it has been met with in the popular press.

Most of...

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Joyce Carol Oates (review date 1973)

SOURCE: A review of Judith and Other Stories, in The New York Times Book Review, November 25, 1973, pp. 7, 14, 18.

[Below, Oates takes issue with Farrell's compression of characterization, which she sees as a distortion of truth.]

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Regina Barnes (review date 1973)

SOURCE: "Old Master," in The New Republic, Vol. 169, No. 25, December 22, 1973, p. 30.

[In this review of Judith and Other Stories, Barnes remarks that Farrell's work continues to be dominated by grim and hopelessly limited characters.]

The works of James T. Farrell cannot be discussed singly. His 22 novels, 14 collections of short stories, essays, literary criticism and poetry all center on his pessimistic determinism, conditioned by personal experiences and confirmed through intense observation of the human scene. He is indeed considered by some to be the literary heir of Upton Sinclair and Theodore Dreiser through his consistent depiction of urban decay,...

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James T. Farrell (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "Relevance in Literature," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 22, No. 1, February, 1976, pp. 19-25.

[In this excerpted paper, which was originally presented as a lecture at Southampton College in 1974, Farrell asserts that genuine writing demands both knowledge of and respect for the past.]

In recent years much has been said about relevance: relevance in education; relevance in the subject matter of what is taught in the various departments of colleges and universities; relevance in the books that are studied; relevance in the books that are read. And, generally speaking, topicality is what is meant by "relevance."

When we consider the...

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Robert Phillips (review date 1974)

SOURCE: A review of Judith and Other Stories, in Commonweal, Vol. XCIX, No. 19, February 15, 1974, pp. 493-94.

[In this review, Phillips notes that although Farrell returns to the same themes and types of characters of his earlier works, one finds in this collection a mellower and warmer writer.]

It astounds to learn that this is Farrell's forty-seventh published book. But perhaps it should be more astonishing to learn it is also his fourteenth short story collection. What other serious writer of fiction in America has published that many stories?

And while Farrell's stories often present many of the same themes and characters from his novels,...

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Barry O'Connell (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: "The Lost World of James T. Farrell's Short Stories," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 22, No. 1, February 1976, pp. 36-51.

[In this essay, O'Connell argues for the centrality of Farrell's vision of the Irish-Catholic experience in his fiction.]

James T. Farrell can be an easy mark for a critic. His faults and his failures have often been attacked and are, as we shall see, only too obvious. Many of his some 250 short stories and roughly twenty-two novels are inferior pieces of literature and sometimes embarrassingly bad. At his best, however, in a number of the short stories and in Studs Lonigan, he renders accessible to us a world which we might...

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Alan M. Wald (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "The Literary Record," in James T. Farrell: The Revolutionary Socialist Years, New York University Press, 1978, pp. 132-43.

[In this excerpt, Wald contends that Farrell's political concerns are a significant aspect of his work.]

The clearest manifestations of [Leon] Trotsky's impact on Farrell were inspirational and political; but there was a special bond in their mutual search for "new perspectives" for Marxist writers and intellectuals. As a novelist, Farrell emerged from the 1920s looking favorably upon the literary tradition of modern realism and naturalism; but as an intellectual, with a wide-ranging knowledge of history and philosophy, he condemned the...

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Mary Rohrberger (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "The Question of Regionalism: Limitation and Transcendence," in The American Short Story, 1900-1945, Twayne Publishers, 1984, pp. 147-82.

[Below, Rohrberger observes that modern civilization's lack of spiritual values is the cause of individual and societal failure in Farrell's short fiction.]

Best known for his Studs Lonigan trilogy, James T. Farrell writes of the failure of institutions to provide moral sanctions sufficient to maintain spiritual values that define civilization at its best. The disease that takes over when a moral vacuum exists is both personal and social, manifesting itself in the disintegration of character. Farrell's popularity in...

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Lewis F. Fried (essay date 1990)

SOURCE: "James T. Farrell: The City as Society," in Makers of the City, University of Massachusetts Press, 1990, pp. 119-58.

[In the following excerpt, Fried discusses the role of the city in Farrell's writing, particularly Farrell's understanding of the city and its culture as a crucial determinant of human experience.]

No novelist of our time has so persistently identified the substance of his fiction with the teachings of the liberalizing city than James T. Farrell. His novels depict how characters make use of the city's commitment to build a public through shared, rational experience. His narrative strategy has been to present in great detail the often unnoticed...

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