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A classic story of an Irish-American youth growing to adulthood in Chicago. Widely regarded as one of the finest American novels from the first half of the twentieth century.
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James Thomas Farrell (1904—1979) was born in Chicago to a struggling family of second-generation Irish Catholic immi grants. In 1907, his father, James Farrell, a teamster unable to support his growing family, placed young Jim with his maternal grandparents. It was his grandparents’ neighborhood in Chicago’s South Fifties that would provide the background to Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy. Farrell worked his way through the University of Chicago, shedding his Catholic upbringing and absorbing the works of William James, John Dewey, Sigmund Freud, while reading widely in American and European literature: Herman Melville, Sherwood Anderson, H. L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, and James Joyce were critical influences on his literary development. “Slob” (1929), his first published story, was also his first render ing of the real life “Studs Lonigan,” a young man he had known growing up in Chicago. Farrell’s first novel, Young Lonigan was published in 1932, followed by The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934) and Judgment Day (1935)—the three volumes making up his celebrated Studs Lonigan trilogy. A prolific writer, Farrell left more than fifty books of stories and novels behind him when he died in 1979. Alongside his masterpiece Studs Lonigan, Farrell’s best-known works include the Danny O’Neill novels, A World I Never Made, No Star is Lost, Father and Son, and My Days of Anger. James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy is also available in Penguin Classics.From The Washington Post:
James T. Farrell's three-volume narrative of the brief, hapless life of William "Studs" Lonigan is a milestone in American literature, but an exceedingly problematical one. No series of volumes calling itself the Library of America would be complete without it, so it is good that Farrell has at last joined his contemporaries (and fellow naturalist writers) John Dos Passos and Theodore Dreiser in that exalted company, but a clinical rereading of the trilogy serves mainly to expose its many weaknesses. In its own day it was a monument, but in ours it is a period piece.
Like countless others who are now in their sixties or older, I first read Studs Lonigan (in the Modern Library "Giant" edition) when I was a teenager, about half a century ago. It was barely two decades old in the mid-1950s, and still seemed fresh, daring and original. Studs, especially the teenage Studs of Young Lonigan, was someone with whom a boy of the '50s could identify, as he struggled to break free of his loving but stifling family, as he fell into the grip of sexual confusion and longing, as shyness and peer pressure stifled his gentler, loving instincts, as he was gradually smothered by the little Chicago world into which he had been born and then by the Depression.
Reading Studs Lonigan was an immensely important experience for me, and doubtless many others reading this review would say the same. It was big, ambitious, honest and identifiably American. Even as late as the 1950s American literature was still emerging from the shadows cast by Europe and England, and writers who not merely confronted distinctly American subjects but wrote in distinctly American voices were welcomed with real gratitude and passion. The "Great American Novel" was something people still believed in, or wanted to believe in, and a lot of people thought Studs Lonigan might just be it, if not its almost exact contemporary, John Dos Passos's monumental trilogy, U.S.A.
It gives me no pleasure to report that seven decades after its publication and on its author's centennial, Studs Lonigan fails to pass one of the essential tests of greatness. Though the core of Studs's story is timeless, the specifics are forced and dated: the stilted language, the pervasive racism and anti-Semitism, the stabs at irony that rarely rise above sarcasm, the rootedness in a time and place that now seem impossibly remote. Opening the book with what can fairly be described as eagerness, I quickly -- indeed almost immediately -- found myself fighting to stay attentive and awake. I also found myself wondering how many readers under the age of 30 would have any patience with Farrell's lumbering prose or would find anything within the trilogy with which to connect.
The trilogy begins when Studs is 14 years old, preparing to graduate from secondary school, and ends with his death a decade and a half later of heart problems complicated by pneumonia. His story parallels that of his country, which before World War I and during the 1920s was optimistic but declined into despair as the Depression slowly ground hope away. Set in blue-collar Irish-American Chicago, it obviously contains many autobiographical elements, but it would be a mistake to read Studs's story as Farrell's own. Farrell pitied Studs but identified with him only to the extent that they came from the same place and were Irish Catholic. Otherwise, Farrell was clearly angered by his protagonist's passivity, his inarticulateness, his provincialism, his bigotry. The one time Farrell's own voice can be heard clearly and unmistakably comes near the halfway point, when a brief interlude is given to "a University student who had lost his religion," Danny O'Neill:
"He had been told things, told that the world was good and just, and that the good and just were rewarded, lies completely irrelevant to what he had really experienced; lies covering a world of misery, neuroticism, frustration, impecuniousness, hypocrisy, disease, clap, syphilis, poverty, injustice. . . . He wanted to be a writer. He didn't know how. He wanted to purge himself completely of the world he knew, the world of Fifty-eighth Street, with its God, its life, its lies, the frustrations he had known in it, the hates it had welled up in him. . . . It would all go in a newer, cleaner world. He seethed with sudden dizzying adolescent dreams and visions of this new world. He, too, he would destroy the old world with his pen; he would help create the new world. He would study to prepare himself. He saw himself in the future, delivering great and stirring orations, convincing people, a leader, a savior of the world."
That of course is precisely what Farrell himself tried to do. Like many other American novelists, poets and playwrights who became prominent during the Depression, he was heavily influenced by socialism and Marxism (though he was a Trotskyite rather than a Leninist, and ultimately became a Cold Warrior who voted for Richard Nixon in 1972) and wrote within the Proletarian tradition. His writing seems to have been motivated at least as much by politics and ideology as by the naturalist belief that fate is determined by environment and circumstances rather than by free will. This may have leant a certain immediacy to his work as it first appeared, but it also ensured that in the long run it would become dated.
A further difficulty with Studs Lonigan is that Studs himself is a remarkably unappealing character, or so he seems on second encounter. Reading about him as a teenager, I empathized with him, just as other teenagers of the same period empathized with Holden Caulfield. Reading about him as an adult, I found him spineless (not in street brawls, but in human connections), purposeless and self-pitying. He never amounts to anything more than "a leading member of the Fifty-eighth Street bunch," incapable of understanding his friend Helen Shires's insistence "that he was being a fool hanging around Fifty-eighth Street where the bunch made a bum out of everybody." He may be a guys' guy, but the guys are mostly riding one-way tickets to nowhere, to prison or to premature death.
He's not really stupid, but most of the time he acts so dumb you want to wring his neck. Most teenage boys will identify with his passionate longing for girls and his frustration at being unable to connect with them, but over and over again he leaves no doubt that the fault is entirely his own. He's crazy about Lucy Scanlan, and she seems to return the feeling, but just when he thinks he's reached "a turning point" with her, he blows it because "he wanted to say more, and he couldn't," and then when he sees graffiti -- "STUDS LOVES LUCY" -- he represses his tender feelings for her "because STUDS LONIGAN was an iron man, and when anybody laughed at the iron man, well, the iron man would knock the laugh off the face of Mr. Anybody with the sweetest paste in the mush that Mr. Anybody ever got." Ditto for Helen Shires and Catherine Banahan ("Studs wanted to tell Catherine that Red's wife was not as sweet nor as pretty as she was, but the words choked up on him") and all the other women to whom he is attracted. With each one eventually he begins "to become afraid of himself, of the feelings of love and tenderness," and he backs away into the macho cocoon that is the only place where he feels at home. The same goes for everything else in his life. He quits high school after one year, afraid, apparently, of its challenges and the possibility that he might fail them. He fights repeatedly with his father, but retreats into his father's painting business rather than test himself in something new. From time to time for one reason or another "Studs' conscience bothered him," but rarely for long and never with lasting effect.
It's hard not to contrast Studs with another Chicago boy, Saul Bellow's Augie March. Studs is Irish and Augie Jewish, but both come from similar circumstances. While Studs succumbs to them, Augie rises above them. While Studs is passive, Augie is positive and hopeful. Some of the difference surely can be attributed to the times in which their authors created them. Farrell wrote Studs Lonigan during a period of widespread working-class unrest and violence against organized labor, and then during the hard early years of the Depression; Bellow wrote The Adventures of Augie March in the prolonged period of optimism that followed World War II. Farrell was a dogged naturalist throughout his adult life, while Bellow emerged from that tradition to find greater strength in individual will. In sum, though both books have their flaws and are seriously dated, Augie March has far more energy, passion and humor and in spirit is more American.
It should be mentioned that there are language and sentiments in Studs Lonigan that many of today's readers will find deeply offensive. The prejudice against blacks and Jews that is repeatedly expressed in terms now regarded as unacceptable accurately reflects the time and place in which Studs lived, though it certainly is contrary to Farrell's own egalitarian views. To eliminate these words and hatreds would be to whitewash historical truth, but the prospective reader of Studs Lonigan is herewith advised to enter it with eyes wide open.
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.
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Book Description University of Illinois Press, 1993. Condition: Good. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Seller Inventory # GRP98677158
Book Description University of Illinois Press. Hardcover. Condition: Good. A copy that has been read, but remains in clean condition. All pages are intact, and the cover is intact. The spine may show signs of wear. Pages can include limited notes and highlighting, and the copy can include previous owner inscriptions. An ex-library book and may have standard library stamps and/or stickers. At ThriftBooks, our motto is: Read More, Spend Less. Seller Inventory # G0252020626I3N10
Book Description University of Illinois Press, 1993. Hardcover. Condition: Good. Ex-library copy with usual markings and stickers. No Dust jacket. Seller Inventory # mon0001302652
Book Description University of Illinois Press, 1993. Hardcover. Condition: Used: Good. Seller Inventory # SONG0252020626
Book Description University of Illinois Press, 1993. Soft Cover. Condition: Very Good. slight damp rippling to some pages. a few margin notes, still VG at least. Seller Inventory # 002192