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James Thomas Farrell (February 27, 1904 - August 22, 1979) was an American novelist, short-story writer and poet.
He is most remembered for the Studs Lonigantrilogy, which was made into a film in 1960 and a television series in 1979.
Farrell was born in Chicago, to a large Irish-American family which included siblings Earl, Joseph, Helen, John and Mary. In addition, there were several other siblings who died during childbirth, as well as one who died from the great 1918 flu pandemic. His father was a teamster, and his mother a domestic servant. His parents were too poor to provide for him, and he went to live with his grandparents when he was three years old. Farrell attended Mt. Carmel High School, then known as St. Cyril, with future EgyptologistRichard Anthony Parker. He then later attended the University of Chicago. He began writing when he was 21 years old. A novelist, journalist, and short story writer, he was known for his realistic descriptions of the working class South Side Irish, especially in the novels about the character Studs Lonigan. Farrell based his writing on his own experiences, particularly those that he included in his celebrated "Danny O'Neill Pentology" series of five novels.
Among the writers who acknowledged Farrell as an inspiration was Norman Mailer:
Mr. Mailer intended to major in aeronautical engineering, but by the time he was a sophomore, he had fallen in love with literature. He spent the summer reading and rereading James T. Farrell's "Studs Lonigan," John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" and John Dos Passos's "U.S.A.," and he began, or so he claimed, to set himself a daily quota of 3,000 words of his own, on the theory that this was the way to get bad writing out of his system. By 1941 he was sufficiently purged to win the Story magazine prize for best short story written by an undergraduate.
Within the Workers' Party, Goldman and Farrell worked closely. In 1948, they developed criticisms of its policies, claiming that the party should endorse the Marshall Plan and also Norman Thomas' presidential candidacy. Having come to believe that only capitalism
could defeat Stalinism, they left to join the Socialist Party of America. During the late 1960s, disenchanted with the political "center", while impressed with the SWP's involvement in the Civil Rights and US anti-Vietnam War movements, he reestablished communication with his former comrades of two decades earlier. Farrell attended one or more SWP-sponsored Militant Forum events (probably in NYC), but never rejoined the Trotskyist movement.
Farrell was married three times, to two women. He married his first wife Dorothy Butler in 1931. After divorcing her, in 1941 he married stage actress Hortense Alden, with whom he had two sons, Kevin and John. They divorced in 1955, and later that year he remarried Dorothy Farrell. They separated again in 1958 but remained legally married until his death. She died in 2005.
According to William McCann:
No writer has described a specific area of American society so thoroughly and comprehensively as Farrell did in the seven novels of Studs Lonigan and Danny O'Neill (1932-43). A consummate realist in viewpoint and method, he turned repeatedly in his fiction to the subject he knew best, the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Chicago's South Side. Drawing on lacerating personal experience, Farrell wrote about people who were victims of injurious social circumstances and of their own spiritual and intellectual shortcomings. He depicted human frustration, ignorance, cruelty, violence, and moral degeneration with sober, relentless veracity....Despite his Marxist leanings, Farrell's fiction is not that of a reformer, or a doctrinaire theorist, but rather the patient humorless representation of ways of life and states of mind he abhors....Farrell's place in American letters, however, as certainly the most industrious and probably the most powerful writer in the naturalistic tradition stemming from Frank Norris and Dreiser, was solidly established with the Lonegan--O'Neil series....His later novels are lamented and ignored.
The Studs Lonigan trilogy was voted number 29 on the Modern Library's list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.