After Vanguard Press published Studs Lonigan in 1935, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice attempted unsuccessfully to halt its circulation because of its alleged obscenity (the organization also tried unsuccessfully to suppress Farrell’s 1937 novel World I Never Made). Soon after Studs Lonigan was published, New York City’s police began harassing Vanguard Press and city bookstores, angered by ties they perceived between the novel and a sensational murder case then going on. Farrell and Vanguard regarded the police actions as an attempt at political intimidation.
When legal censorship failed, many libraries and bookstores refused to carry Farrell’s controversial works. A librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland, for example, remarked that “hundreds of libraries are closed to him and his literary kind.” In 1942 the American Library Association (ALA) dropped Studs Lonigan from its select list of books about life in the United States; because of the wartime paper shortage this decision had the effect of stopping publication of Studs Lonigan in Great Britain. Although the ALA disavowed any attempt at censorship of Farrell’s books, Farrell’s left-leaning political views made critics skeptical of the ALA claim.
Farrell also had trouble with Canadian authorities; although Canadian customs reportedly cleared his book, it appears to have been banned in Canada. Farrell himself later responded to efforts to ban his books by writing, “We are still bedogged and bedeviled with impudent and antidemocratic efforts to censor our books.”
Although most often published and read as a single novel, Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy comprises Young Lonigan: A Boyhood in the Chicago Streets (1932), The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934), and Judgment Day (1935). Together the three novels chronicle the failed life of a young man growing up in a lower-middle-class Irish-Catholic neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. The trilogy opens with Studs as a strong, hopeful adolescent and closes with him as a sickly twenty-nine-year-old who dies of pneumonia with none of his dreams fulfilled.
In Young Lonigan Studs rebels against the values of home and church, gaining notoriety as a local tough after beating up Weary Reilley, the neighborhood bully. As a street tough, however, he suppresses his tender feelings and rejects the affections of Lucy Scanlon, who represents self-fulfillment and identity beyond the neighborhood. The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan follows Studs, now in his twenties, through years of fighting, whoring, drinking, and loafing around the corner poolroom. The novel ends with him lying drunk and beaten in the snow on New Year’s Eve. Judgement Day begins in 1931 with the onset of the Depression. A weakened and dissipated Studs reluctantly abandons his identity as a street tough and the grandiose dreams of his youth, desperately searching for fulfillment in a conventional job and his impending marriage to Catherine Banahan, a...
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