Farrell, James T.
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."
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.
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.
*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
When Boyhood Dreams Come True 1946; also published as Further Short Stories 1948
A Hell of A Good Time and Other Stories 1947
†The Life Adventurous and Other Stories 1947
Yesterday's Love and Eleven Other Stories 1948
A Misunderstanding 1949
An American Dream Girl 1950
French Girls Are Vicious and Other Stories 1955
A Dangerous Woman and Other Stories 1957
Saturday Night and Other Stories 1958
The Girls at the Sphinx 1959
Looking 'em Over 1960
(The entire section is 452 words.)
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 his sure ear for dialogue he commands none of the props which help narrative forward. But it is perhaps just as well that he doesn't, since he throws his undivided strength into something more important: ferreting out the truth. His delineation of Chicago's low Irish has nothing glib or facile about it, but is exact and expressive and stamped with reality.
Mr. Farrell, in treating people of one milieu, does not make the mistake of reducing them to a uniform characterization. They react to their common background in different ways, and their conflicts are as much against one another as against other kinds of people or life itself. For the most part they are ignorant, parochial, unimaginative; some are dislocated by poverty,...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
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 of his lower middle-class characters, a pervasive sympathetic understanding of the inarticulate, the exploited, the lonely, the misunderstood. . . . He has been highly praised for his "uncompromising" realism, but he has not as yet learned to depersonalize experience that was highly personal, to transmute the facts of the life he has so keenly observed, into the heightened reality of fictional art. This insistence upon the utilization of all his material, upon the presentation of all the facts because they are the facts, makes for a lack of selectivity, for an obtuse hammering upon the same idea until the reader mutters impatiently, "Yes, I get the point."
These virtues and defects are again present in most of these...
(The entire section is 495 words.)
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 writing. He has brilliantly exploited the theme of poverty, not primarily physical poverty—actual hunger plays small part in his books—but spiritual poverty. His people all live in what one of his few articulate characters calls "a poverty not only of mind but of spirit, even a poverty of the senses, so that they [can] scarcely even look at many things and enjoy them." . . . When we observe the defeat of his characters we also observe the deterioration of communal institutions—the family, the school, the church. The members of Studs's gang die early spiritual—and, indeed, physical—deaths because they are socially betrayed by institutions which have lost their power for good but not their power for harm.
Much of the...
(The entire section is 960 words.)
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 somehow indecent to write of human beings as if they stalked a menagerie; if you believe, as so many excellent people do, that Mr. Farrell's characters should not be allowed into the respectable society of the novel at all; if Mr. Farrell's much-praised power sounds to you like an empty bellow, these assorted sketches and highly unplatonic dialogues will appear doubly trivial. They are scenes, most of them, outlines of the behavior Mr. Farrell has illuminated more fully (but not, I think, less cruelly) in his novels; a good many of them are earlier sketches or finished pieces warmed over to suit this year of grace.
To those who hold as their first critical premise that nothing human is alien to literature, who admire Mr....
(The entire section is 1311 words.)
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 enthusiasm could be set down to Farrell's constant anchoring allusion to all the familiar streets, corners, El stations, hot spots and ends of town; but they got more than that, it was more real to them than that. I should have said up to then that while the words and scenes might be thrilling to startled professors and rather dangerously advanced librarians, some actual veteran of the threeway houses, GU wards, alleyways, etc., would sense the difference between the tragedy of the real thing and the lurid hearsay that a youth with his notebook and mouth open might pick up from the boys on the corner. They put me right on that, making it possible to disregard the slovenly technique and appreciate the substance; and if they, having come up from...
(The entire section is 1196 words.)
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 Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway. In his external career he recalls Dickens in the rapidity of his production and his sudden rise to notability as a writer and as a public figure—a defender of human rights.
My first acquaintance with Farrell at the University of Chicago was in connection with a letter which he wrote to the college newspaper protesting against the exclusion by the dramatic club of colored students from plays which introduced characters belonging to their race. At our second meeting he brought me the manuscript of a story about Studs Lonigan, a boy who grew up in the changing neighborhood a mile or so west of the University. If my recollection is correct—that I told him his material was fitted...
(The entire section is 2339 words.)
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 race hatred and shouting shibboleths at passers. It is a phenomenon so ominous and strange in America, so distinctly a throwback to barbarism and darkness that any novelist able to shed light on it may well write one of those fictions which is timely yet has implications not to be dated, which is local yet speaks to all men everywhere.
James Farrell is a novelist with the necessary equipment. He has for almost ten years been occupied with arresting, detailed and sociologically scrupulous studies of lower middle-class Irish-American Catholics—a group that has contributed conspicuously to the tendency described above. Consequently, when he writes of Tommy Gallagher, American Fascist, he writes with peculiar authority. Many of...
(The entire section is 1050 words.)
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 obviously, there are differences of style to be seen, for example, in the contrast of such stories as "$1,000 a Week," "The Sport of Kings," and "Whoopee for the New Deal!" with such as "Sorel," "After the Sun Has Risen," "The Bride of Christ," and "Counting the Waves." The former group, which forms the majority, has the relaxed American colloquialism of the author's novel-writing, whereas the latter uses a manner much like the average style of the French or Russian realists, who appear to make a studied blend of the colloquial with the formal and "literary." It is interesting to observe, incidentally that Mr. Farrell's exotic manner occurs in concomitance with a subject matter which, beside his regular Chicago-Irish-American milieu, is also...
(The entire section is 1008 words.)
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.]
(The entire section is 810 words.)
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 betrayed, most unhappily for those who rated Farrell high among contemporary writers, an ebbing of literary power. They have been marked, upon the superficial writing level, by dulness and fatigue, and more profoundly by a barrenness of spirit. His last novel, Bernard Clare, seemed to me to suffer from this basic fallacy: that no man as callow and unimaginative, as completely unformed, as Bernard Clare was shown to be, could possibly be a creative writer, as Farrell postulated he was.
All of Bernard Clare's cynical strictures upon the New York scene were negated entirely by the fact that he was not himself a subtle or a penetrating observer. I feel this to be a characteristic of all of Farrell's recent work, and especially...
(The entire section is 752 words.)
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 hysterical attacks of the literary hatchet men whom he characterized, with customary truculence, as the League of Frightened Philistines. By the same token he remains a major figure of the 'forties while his contemporaries have retired into a profound and apparently unbreakable silence.
The familiar Farrell characters are here; the youths smothering in the barren environment of lower middle class Irish Catholic family life; the young men and boys wandering the bleak Chicago streets, brooding, wishing and day-dreaming; the bewildered and broken parents, seeking consolation in memories of the past or in the rantings of the radio priest, Father Moylan (Coughlin). They are helplessly trapped in the crumbling ruins of the landmarks...
(The entire section is 581 words.)
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. The fact remains that Farrell has written of a particular section of American life as no other man has. His Chicago novels told a significant part of the American story, the part he knew best, and told it with honesty, meaning, and unforgettable creative power.
To a degree duplicated by few other writers, James T. Farrell's fiction over twenty years is all of a piece. Most of the items in this latest collection of his short stories fall with scarcely a ripple into the larger body of his work, the somber epic of Chicago's Irish Catholics. With the exception of three political parables, exhibiting Mr. Farrell's well known aversion to Stalinism, the majority of these twenty stories, sketches and monologues are fragments of...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
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 respect is also reserved for Mr. Farrell, whose status in the world of letters is strikingly similar to that of Mr. Stanky in the world of baseball. Mr. Farrell can't run; he can't hit; and he can't throw; but I wouldn't trade him for a half a dozen melancholy exquisites just up from New Orleans.
Mr. Farrell is a unique case Lacking the imaginative gift, and without any apparent feeling for the language, he has, through sheer determination and belief in himself, earned a place in our literature. His assets are (as they have always been) an uncompromising integrity, a prodigious memory, and a bright, fierce hatred of ignorance and injustice. These were the qualities which enabled him, in the space of five years, to...
(The entire section is 871 words.)
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."
Nor, as his readers are long aware, is there a great deal more than this to the lives of Farrell's other dream-boys and dream-girls. Under his compassionless prose and belabored cataloging we feel in every story the same dissatisfaction and the same dull dream—a sense of unfulfilled human possibilities sometimes strong enough to make his people come true.
In "Slouch," "Yellow Streak," and "A Romantic Interlude in the Life of Willie Collins" he reports three commonplace failures so tangibly that we share a common disappointment. And in "A Misunderstanding," the story of a man who puts up just so long with a wife who can't answer a straight question, there is both tragedy and humor, the latter an element...
(The entire section is 942 words.)
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 weak and small and helpless as field-mice, crushed in fear, blinded by poverty and debased by their own wild, unbridled instincts (instincts vaster than will or mind or soul, it would appear) and by the impact of a dark, dangerous, industrial and commercial civilization. In this respect, the work of Farrell draws us back to such nineteenth-century writers as Zola, the Goncourt brothers and George Gissing (a kind of Victorian Farrell)—to mention but a few—writers who took experience not from the salons of the old world but, one might say, from the sewers of the new.
Yet it is understandable that the plight of man in an urbanized, industrialized civilization could scarcely have been ignored, that the sensibilities of...
(The entire section is 2688 words.)
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 to resolve in his favor by assigning him and his work to a vague place "beyond the provinces of art" where, it seems, Tolstoy, Balzac, and Dickens also reside. The ambiguity of the judgment of him derives not so much from the common opinion that while he "can't write" he has nevertheless somehow managed to write some memorable stories, as from two other more pertinent facts about him: that his work in fiction is a kind of creative sociology not generally recognized as "art" at a moment that naturalism is being systematically cried down, and that while he is primarily a fiction writer, he is also in his fashion an explicit critic of life, literature, and society in terms "artists" customarily do not employ. Farrell is a man of letters in a...
(The entire section is 2154 words.)
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 most successful writers for the drugstore soft-back set, New American Library reporting that it has sold over 5 million copies of his books. In any case, the title promises more than the book delivers; for the stories are quiet character studies, often little more than sketches.
The subject matter of none of these stories will seem new to Farrell's readers, and there is little in their telling that sets them apart. On the other hand, although it is expended in very small quantities, the power of Farrell's other work is present here—a power that derives from an absolute devotion to fact, a steady but grim-mouthed determination to tell the truth.
In the appealing testimony Farrell gave in the Philadelphia...
(The entire section is 829 words.)
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 Chicago's Near North Side, Bert sips a drink and vaguely remembers Ruth: "He would like to see Ruth again, but perhaps he never would. He was mildly sad. Life was not important enough for one to feel it too deeply. One needed a shield against it, and life was fascinating with this shield that you held up before it. Style was a shield against life, and that was what he had seen and admired in Henry James all these years."
The statement on style probably represents the author's view, but it is hard to tell which came first, the author's deprecatory opinion of style or his own complete lack of it.
At the same time, Mr. Farrell has always had two important qualities that make it impossible to dismiss him. He is...
(The entire section is 730 words.)
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 once I finish a book, I dislike or hate to read it. The only time that I will ever read a book of mine with real intensity is if I have to testify in its defense. I have looked through and thought about various books of mine, but the only one that I have ever read closely after I have written it is Studs Lonigan, and that was some years ago, when I had to testify in a censorship case in Philadelphia.
Young people agree with me about not reading my books. Time magazine once said that I was the worst writer in America, and for all I know they may be right. There is no absolute way of judging whether a book is good, or purely awful. The moment we try to establish absolute, universal standards for the judgment of...
(The entire section is 3972 words.)
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 memorable adolescents and youths of his earlier novels and short stories: Studs Lonigan and his pals, including the indefatigable Weary Reilly, tremblingly anticipating the sordid delights of a gang shag; Danny O'Neill doggedly attempting to get a date for the St. Stanialaus commencement ball; Jack Malloy day-dreaming of impressing his girl Margie by heroic struggle with a mad bulldog "with a face worse than Battling Nelson's." In such stones, Farrell has created a segment of the American past as authentic and as individualistic as Mark Twain's river towns or Faulkner's Deep South.
Writing about adults, Farrell is not quite so convincing, not quite so entertaining. He has always been concerned with the corrosive effect of...
(The entire section is 471 words.)
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 these stories will have no difficulty in recognizing the author of Studs Lonigan. As a matter of fact, they will have no difficulty recognizing Studs Lonigan himself, for here he is, in a story called "Boys and Girls," together with Weary Reilly, Red Kelly, Davey Cohen, and other of his South Side playmates including the perfect hostess, a girl named Iris. The story is a retelling of one of the incidents of Studs Lonigan, a little party at Iris' house while her mother was away.
While some of the other stories in this collection are less directly related to Mr. Farrell's earlier chronicles, they share the same grim and graphic qualities. In "Memento Mori" a truck driver leads a drab dismal life whose monotony...
(The entire section is 613 words.)
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.
Whit Burnett published two of my short stories. One of them, "A Casual Incident," has remained popular.
And H. L. Mencken had accepted for publication "Helen, I Love You" before Young Lonigan had appeared.
Most of the stories in this selection were written in the 1950's. There are many who insist that there was nothing to write of in this period. These stories show that there is much, very much, to write about. In them, there is a variety and range of experience as well as a variety and range in the locale and in the time.
These stories are not filled by the morals of crippled despair that make a universal axiom out of hopelessness, an evil out of aspiration. Many of...
(The entire section is 403 words.)
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 Farrell's large body of work has been written with purpose and from a perspective. Childhood Is Not Forever fills in some of the cracks between his interrelated novels, especially the Eddie Ryan and Danny O'Neill cycles. Both characters are encountered within these stories. The book is also more overtly political than Mr. Farrell's recent novels, with the McCarthy era, the Bolshevik revolution, and Adlai Stevenson's campaigns all serving as occasions for fiction.
But, as the collection's title implies, the most important agent in the stories is Time, which robs us of opportunities, changes all things, separates souls, and tyrannizes over us. A story such as "Reunion Abroad", for instance, a tapestry woven about the...
(The entire section is 784 words.)
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.]
Judith and Other...
(The entire section is 946 words.)
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, social corruption and individual despair.
In Studs Lonigan (1935) Farrell created an epochal document detailing as no one has surpassed, the environment of prejudice, inferiority, foamy sentiment and violence of lower working class Chicago. This was succeeded by the Danny O'Neill pentalogy, the Bernard Can trilogy (major but unevenly written novels) and over 200 short stories—often peopled with recurring characters, like faces in changing crowds, contorted always by the same hopeless grimace.
Judith and Other Stories presents few surprises. It possesses both the major deficiencies and cumulative persuasion of many of Farrell's preceding works. The themes of the 11 stories are familiar,...
(The entire section is 455 words.)
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 general social, political, and economic problems of the immediate present, we do so in terms of how various people pose them. The posing of these questions is generalized and is, therefore, more or less abstract. And often when demands are made upon writers to write about the problems of the day, the demand is to write about the problems as they are posed by journalists, propagandists, and others—and not necessarily about the problems but about the way these problems are phrased, the way questions are stated. In most cases this is a journalistic posing of questions rather than a scholarly one.
Also, these questions are very large: inflation, poverty, energy. And they are usually posed in a most generalized manner. Art and...
(The entire section is 1919 words.)
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, there are examples when the shorter form is the more successful. He has a way of perceiving the hidden occasions of success or failure (more often of failure, in Farrell) which are the kernel of good short stories, and transmuting them through his own unmistakable vision and voice.
As a theorist of the short story form, however, Farrell seems to sell himself short. "You've written books with warmth," the wife of Tom Carroll, a Farrell alter-ego says in one of these new tales. "But people can only get so much out of a book, Tom. They can't get the warmth of a man out of his books. They must get it out of him."
Wrong. In the best short stories, as Sean O'Faolain has shown, one encounters a combination of...
(The entire section is 693 words.)
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 otherwise never encounter. And for the Irish-Americans among us, indeed perhaps for all those Americans from an ethnic or racial minority, were it not for his voice it would be harder to take the first necessary steps toward a recognition of what we have been, a recognition without which we could not begin to understand what we have become, or to imagine what we might yet be.
I intend to venture in this essay an assessment of Farrell's achievement, using his short stories, particularly the stories about Irish-Catholics on the South Side of Chicago where Farrell grew up. Farrell has written about other experiences and has created other fictions, but none of them equals in the mass of observed detail or in intensity of feeling...
(The entire section is 6765 words.)
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 limited vistas of Dreiser, Anderson, and others. Originally, Farrell advanced beyond these other writers in his assimilation of the pragmatic social philosophy and psychology of Dewey and Mead. Like the New York intellectuals around Partisan Review, Farrell believed in the necessity of literary as well as Marxist tradition; and unlike Max Eastman, and many in the Stalinist school of the early 1930s, Farrell accepted the 1920s revolution in technique and sensibility (although he found it inadequate for the 1930s).
Drawn initially to ideals he mistakenly associated with the Stalinist movement, Farrell felt a visceral disgust with the Communists' literary politics and began to forge a critique. Gradually, as in the case...
(The entire section is 3419 words.)
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 recent years has diminished, although at one time he was considered to be one of this country's important writers.
As a short story writer, Farrell is better than [Sinclair] Lewis, though Farrell, too, often gets no further than surfaces; still, his range is greater and his tone more varied. "The Power of Literature," is, for example, more subtly ironic than overtly satiric. Hardly complex, this very short story concerns itself with the essential loneliness of people in a big city. Told in the third person and focused through Samuel Lord, the protagonist, the story is based in an ironic reversal. Lord is the author of a first novel having to do with alcoholism and delirium tremens. Having himself been an alcoholic, Lord is...
(The entire section is 1240 words.)
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 and small ways these democratizing occasions are made possible. As a result, his writing often deals with the means by which a community or group helps widen an individual's understanding of self and others. His fiction, generally autobiographical, is so deeply implicated with this pattern of events that it is, by now, a commonplace to argue that Farrell's writing is not only what he experienced, but what only he experienced.
This is true, but qualifiedly so. Farrell's novels and short stories are concerned not simply with a specific community, but rather with it as a generalized community trying to understand the city. Influenced by his reading of John Dewey and George Herbert Mead and by his understanding of...
(The entire section is 2623 words.)
Branch, Edgar M. James T. Farrell. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1971, 192 p.
Provides an overview of Farrell's writing, with an emphasis on the "O'Neill-O'Flaherty series."
Flynn, Dennis, and Jack Salzman. "An Interview with James T. Farrell." Twentieth Century Literature Vol. XXII, No. 1 (February 1976): 1-10.
Farrell discusses the critical reception of Studs Lonigan and how this trilogy has dominated his career.
Fried, Lewis F. "James T. Farrell: The City as Society." In Makers of the City. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990, 244 p.
Examines Farrell's representation of and engagement with the urban landscape.
Phelps, Donald. Hearing Out James T. Farrell: Selected Lectures. New York: The Smith, 1985, 167 p.
Provides a number of important lectures in which Farrell discusses his writing career and literary aesthetics.
Schickel, Richard. "James T. Farrell: Another Time, Another Place." Esquire Vol. LVIII, No. 6 (December 1962): 157, 272-75.
Biocritical study focusing on Farrell's turbulent writing career in which Schickel asserts "What is needed now is an honest...
(The entire section is 250 words.)