Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
How does James T. Farrell’s most famous character, Studs Lonigan, change through the course of the trilogy? Do these changes constitute maturation and self-development?
Can Farrell’s concept of naturalism be distinguished from that of Theodore Dreiser?
Do the second and third novels of the Studs Lonigan trilogy come to be more about the south side of Chicago than about Studs?
Is Farrell, as one critic has called him, a “revolutionary,” or does his naturalistic outlook preclude a revolutionary attitude?
Farrell was regarded as a major literary figure in the 1930’s but not often thereafter. Review his fiction from the following four decades. What value would you assign to this later work?
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
In James T. Farrell’s vast publications (more than sixty volumes) are included essays, critical writing, plays, novels, and social commentary. His novel, Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy (1935), was the basis for a film in 1960, then was adapted for television and presented, to critical acclaim, in 1979.
Achievement (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Although he wrote more than two hundred short stories, many of them closely related to his acclaimed novels, James T. Farrell is seldom discussed as a short-story writer or represented in anthologies of fiction. He is, above all, a novelist, one who has incorporated many of his shorter works into his later novels, thereby subordinating them to the longer works. As a politically committed writer, he was also out of fashion in a country where writers with communist or socialist leanings were unpopular. Since many of his stories do concern the plight of political writers, they seem a bit dated to the contemporary reader unfamiliar with the Trotsky/Lenin wings of the Communist Party. In some respects, the short stories have suffered from their close ties to the novels, which themselves have declined in popularity beginning in the 1950’s.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
James T. Farrell began his career, as so many other novelists have done, by writing short stories, and his more than two hundred tales are an integral part of the vast world he portrays. Most of his stories have been gathered in collections such as Calico Shoes, and Other Stories (1934) and$1,000 a Week, and Other Stories (1942), but several stories and manuscript works remain unpublished. His poetry, collected by Farrell himself in a 1965 edition, seems to be the product of early and late speculations—the early poetry probably coming from the period of the Studs Lonigan trilogy and the later poetry seemingly produced during the early 1960’s, when he was beginning his “second career” with A Universe of Time, an unfinished multicycle series of novels, stories, and poems. All the poetry is uneven in quality and, despite some remarkable effects, is not memorable. Farrell also published volumes of literary criticism, cultural criticism, and essays on a wide range of subjects. The Mowbray Family (pb. 1946), a play written with Hortense Alden Farrell, is a dramatic treatment of the same material that he treats brilliantly in his fiction. The drama, however, lacks the vitality of his novels and seems lifeless alongside a work such as My Days of Anger. Farrell’s letters remain to be collected.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
James T. Farrell’s career encompassed many diverse literary movements and trends. He was active to the end of a long life, publishing his last novel in the year before his death. On the evidence of his three major complete works, the Studs Lonigan trilogy, the Danny O’Neill series (or the O’Neill-O’Flaherty series, as Farrell preferred to call it), and the Bernard Carr trilogy, Farrell presented urban America and the people who sprang from it with a brutal candor rarely equaled in American literature.
Farrell’s youth, spent in Irish Catholic, lower- and middle-class Chicago, gave him the milieu from which a whole society could be examined and explained. His career began with his conscious decision to quit a steady job and become a writer and survived despite reactions to his work that included indifference, shock, bad reviews, prejudice, and ignorance. Farrell’s social activism led him into and out of Marxist circles, sustained him through attacks by the Marxist critics who accused him of abandoning the cause, and gave him the focus necessary to show Americans an entire society that survived and prospered in spite of its environment.
Farrell never achieved great popularity; his style was deemed too flat and brusque, his language profane, and his methods inartistic. His fiction was considered basically plotless or merely photographic, and he was condemned, especially by the Marxists, for failing to be didactic. In the years since his death, however, the scope of his urban vision has been recognized; Farrell’s fictional world has the breadth of conception associated with greatness and has been compared favorably to that of William Faulkner. Much like Theodore Dreiser, whom he admired, Farrell went his own way when it was extremely unpopular to do so, and his impact on modern fiction remains to be assessed.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Branch, Edgar M. James T Farrell. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963. Although his monograph is an overview of Farrell’s life and work, Branch devotes considerable attention to Farrell’s short stories, which he regards as closely linked to the novels. The stories are often preliminary experiments, deletions, or parts of abandoned projects, and they are consistent in tone and style with the larger works.
Branch, Edgar M. James T. Farrell. New York: Twayne, 1971. After tracing Farrell’s “plebeian origin,” Branch discusses major works including the Studs Lonigan trilogy, the O’Neill-O’Flaherty series, and the Bernard Carr trilogy. Essays on other works including the cycle of A Universe of Time follow. A chronology, notes, a selected bibliography, and an index complete the work.
Branch, Edgar M. Studs Lonigan’s Neighborhood and the Making of James T. Farrell. Newton, Mass.: Arts End Books, 1996. A look at the Chicago neighborhood of Farrell’s youth and the inspiration for the Studs Lonigan series. Includes illustrations, maps, bibliographical references, and an index.
Fanning, Charles. “Death and Revery in James T. Farrell’s O’Neill-O’Flaherty Novels.” In The Incarnate Imagination: Essays in Theology, the Arts, and Social Sciences, in Honor of Andrew Greeley: A Festschrift, edited by Ingrid H. Shafer. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1988. Although Fanning is primarily concerned with Farrell’s novels, he does identify themes that pervade all Farrell’s fiction: the artist as an isolated being, the...
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