J. G. Farrell Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Gordon Farrell, best known for his historical novels about the British Empire, was born in Liverpool in 1935 but spent much of his childhood in Ireland. After receiving a degree from the University of Oxford in 1960 he taught English in France for several years. In 1966 he was awarded a two-year scholarship for travel in the United States. After writing three novels, the best of which is The Lung, a black comedy based in part on his own experience with polio, he began the work on which his reputation rests, his trilogy on the history of the decline of the British Empire: Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur, and The Singapore Grip. All three were immediate critical successes, and Troubles was awarded the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, which enabled Farrell to spend a year in India to do research for The Siege of Krishnapur. For that novel he was awarded the Booker Prize, which allowed him to travel to the Far East to do the research for The Singapore Grip. Farrell’s accidental drowning in his prime as a writer cut short a very successful career.

Farrell once explained his choice of topic for his trilogy of novels: “It seemed to me that the really interesting thing that has happened during my lifetime has been the decline of the British Empire.” Each volume of the trilogy documents one key event in the decline, England’s loss of sovereignty over India, Ireland, and the Far East. The...

(The entire section is 556 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Though born in Liverpool, England, James Gordon Farrell had strong family ties to Ireland, which he visited regularly as a child and as an adolescent. After completing his public school training at Rossall, in Lancashire, Farrell worked briefly as a firefighter along a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defense line in the Canadian Arctic. In 1956, during his first term at Oxford University, Farrell contracted polio, which left his chest and shoulder muscles permanently weakened. After taking his degree in 1960, Farrell taught in France and traveled to both Africa and the United States but spent the bulk of the following decade living in London, where he formed friendships with many fellow writers and developed the highly disciplined work habits that enabled him to produce a series of increasingly lengthy and complex novels.

In the early 1970’s, in the wake of the considerable critical and financial success of The Siege of Krishnapur, Farrell traveled throughout Asia, where he conducted extensive research for The Singapore Grip. In April, 1979, he moved into an old farmhouse on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula of Bantry Bay in Ireland’s county Cork. There, while fishing close to his house, Farrell fell from a rock and—according to witnesses—was quickly swept out to sea.