For the last three decades, he has worked in New York, in recent years living in one room of a Greenwich Village hotel. Those who have been there say the room is filled with manuscripts, with millions of unpublished words. Farrell speaks of a final grand project, The Universe of Time, a cycle of perhaps 20 novels. I've never been a rich writer. I live in a room and I have 4, books and no other property.
I gave away my typewriter, my television set, I don't have time for that.
I write in longhand, one draft, and then a revise. One of Farrell's visitors wrote a few years ago that he writes in soft lead in notebooks, pressing down so hard on the pencil that his fingers bleed after a day of writing. It is the sort of detail you hesitate to check: How would you ask Farrell if it were true? One is embarrassed in the face of such dedication. It's very simple. And four of my novels were burned in a fire.
My books sell, but the publishers let them go out of print. A World I Never Made sold 40, copies; that's supposed to be a best-seller. But it's out of print. I never tried to be a millionaire. You can't do it and be a writer.
In the s, when the Studs Lonigan novels were published, Farrell was hailed as the master of American realism. He still writes the same way, with the same vision: His latest novel, A Brand New Life, is set in Chicago and tells of the desperate lives of people who so lack imagination that they believe they are happy. His sentences follow one another like bricks in a well made row. His prose is simple and direct, powerful and blunt. He has no use for the facile style of authors like John Updike.
I've never had writer's block so much as a day in my life. If I block for an hour, that's a long time. I know what I want to write; my problem is to find time to get it all down. What about J. What about Salinger, who wrote "The Catcher in the Rye" and whose production has grown less with every year, until finally it seems every word must be torn free. There are too many writers. One thing pleased me: Time said I was the worst writer in America. I take that as a great distinction. First, that I could do all the writing; second, that I could seduce all the girls. He grinned. There's an echo of an Irish accent in his voice, very distant, but his face is Irish and so is his sense of humor.
Farrell chuckled softly. These professors…one of them came to me and said I might decline. It has confused cultural values, and has almost totally absorbed the theatre. Books have not been unaffected; in fact the fear of commercialized culture is the source of current alarm about the future of books. However increasing tendencies toward centralization in publishing and the enormous influence of Hollywood cannot, singly or combined, kill living creative literature.
But writers will kill it themselves if they surrender, if they passively acquiesce. It is true that we have in America a swollen commercial culture. But at the core it is empty. And we can see that it is hollow by noticing how, when serious books do have an opportunity to sell, they often maintain themselves in competition with the base products.
For instance, there is the phenomenon of Richard Wright. But his example does not suggest the full situation. For the advance-guard writer and the poet do not have the same chances as does the realistic novelist. Still all serious and honestly written literature has the influence of helping the literary artist.
Literary taste must be created, and this can only be done by examples, by examples of seriousness and truthfulness. In the final analysis the problems of literature and commerce will remain as long as we have a capitalist form of society. But the literary and cultural situation is a fluid one. The Hollywood film may be produced more or less on the basis of monolithic industry. There may and most likely will be pronounced monolithic tendencies in book publishing.
But the character of the industry itself, the unevenness of monolithic economic development, the great variety in tastes, cultural levels, and cultural needs produce a very fluid and complicated book market. The publishers intend to make money. They will, within this compass, have a more or less neutral attitude on what they publish. They are now competing on all sides. The production and distribution of books in America may be organized in terms of the needs of the commercial book trade. But literary influences can, if with difficulty, grow even outside of this organization.
Thus the writer himself has a role to play, and he has some voice. Even though the gloomiest of predictions be fulfilled, these tendencies must work out in time.
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And here time is of the essence. They have not worked out to their end of total standardization. The channels of serious communication in America have been narrowed in recent years, but this narrowing has occurred more in the field of ideas and political thought than it has in that of literary work. Studs is about what happens to any organism that looses a functional relationship with its environment. Put someone with Studs' characteristics into another place of the same time - such as sending him to Ireland where he could have joined the early 20th Century struggle against the English - and he would have found some useful direction to his life.
Ironically, on Armistice Day when Studs - fanatically proud of his Irish ancestry - heard a drunk slobber that Patrick Pearse was dead, he wondered who the hell that guy was and we all know who Patrick Pearse was, don't we?
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Modern readers may see the characters and situations as stereotypes, but that reaction is like dismissing Hamlet as "just a bunch of famous quotations". Studs Lonigan is a gritty and realistic novel. The book accurately depicts the attitudes, speech, and thoughts of those who inhabited Studs' world.
People really did think, talk, and act like that - and sad to say, many still do. Of course, today the more educated usually substitute other ethnic groups to be intolerant of and put their prejudice into a more socially acceptable disguise. Although the individual volumes had received mixed reviews those for Judgment Day were mostly laudatory , once the trilogy was issued in a single volume, Jim was hailed as one of America's greatest naturalistic writers. Studs Lonigan , like Huckleberry Finn , had passed from being a crudely written and filthy novel according to some reviewers to an American classic.
So by the time he was 35, James T. Not bad. Praise of Studs continued to grow. John Steinbeck, in the introduction to The Log from the Sea of Cortez one of John's best books, by the way , lauded the authenticity of the book. Paperback editions began to appear as early as the 's, with those in the 's anachronistically depicting Studs on the covers as a duck-tailed, black jacketed James Dean type hoodlum.
Still the books were popular, and Chicago commentator and writer Studs Terkel took his nickname from the novel's protagonist.
James T. Farrell
Norman Mailer said reading Studs changed his life and convinced him to be a writer. Editions were issued in nearly every European language, and the books became million copy best sellers. In , Studs was made into a movie featuring a young Jack Nicholson. Then shortly before he died in , Jim hit the highest pinnacle possible for a man of American letters.
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Studs was made into a television mini-series. Today Jim Farrell has all but vanished from the literary radar screen, and virtually no one remembers he even existed. Studs Lonigan was finally dropped from the Modern Library , and the centenary of Jim's birth brought barely a blip of a renewal despite the reissues of some of his other works plus a biography, ably written by Robert Landers.