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An Honest Writer: The Life and Times of James T. Farrell [Hardcover]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   520
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1.75" Width: 6.5" Height: 9.5"
Weight:   2.1 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Mar 25, 2004
Publisher   Encounter Books
ISBN  1893554953  
EAN  9781893554955  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
James T. Farrell was once mentioned in the same breath with Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald. Studs Lonigan, his trilogy about a swaggering young Irish "tough" from Chicago's South Side, was swiftly acclaimed as a modern classic. But as Farrell's powerful naturalism slipped out of vogue over the decades, his work fell into neglect and his star dimmed. An Honest Writer restores this important writer to his rightful place in American literary history. Robert Landers begins his landmark biography with Farrell's great subject: the working-class life of Chicago and his own family, whose eccentric members inspired some memorable characters in his best fiction. He describes Farrell's dogged search for love and sexual fulfillment, and his long quarrel with God and with a literary establishment that tried to censor his work and deny the harsh social realities it portrayed. Drawing on the voluminous private papers Farrell left behind upon his death in 1979, Landers opens a time capsule to reveal the connection between literature and politics from the 1930s onward. Initially drawn to the Communist Party, Farrell awakened long before Hemingway, Malcolm Cowley and others to the horrors of Soviet totalitarianism. He freed himself from Marxist illusions for good at the onset of the Cold War, joining Mary McCarthy and other anticommunist liberals in the Congress for Cultural Freedom's fight against Stalinism. With its insightful analysis of Farrell's work and evocative sketches of friends and enemies such as Theodore Dreiser, Edmund Wilson and Nelson Algren, An Honest Writer is both a sparkling literary history and a compelling portrait of one of the era's major figures. This authoritative biography arrives right on time for James T. Farrell's centenary in 2004.

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More About Robert K. Landers

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Landers is a senior editor at the Wilson Quarterly. He has worked as a reporter or editor at the Providence Journal, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New Haven Journal-Courier and the Register of Torrington, Connecticut.

Robert K. Landers currently resides in Arlington, in the state of Virginia. Robert K. Landers was born in 1944.

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A carefully written life, but not lit crit  Nov 21, 2004
Among leftist writers once lionised in America, James T. Farrell suffered (along with his slightly older counterpart John Dos Passos) one of the most precipitous declines. Imagine: having published his Studs Lonigan trilogy before the age of 30, he was not even 50 when he was assumed dead-at least on a plaque put up to honour past literati who had resided at New York's bohemian accommodation, The Hotel Chelsea. When I read his trilogy, considered the quintessential Irish American expression in print, it had just been reissued along with a 1979 TV version. I never saw the adaptation, but the evocation of documentary detail combined with sociological re-creation appealed to me much as some science-fiction has. That is, clumsily but engrossingly told. For Farrell, like authors of other genre fiction, conveyed the force of ideas and scenes rather than the polish of style and craft. The energy of his vocation propelled him past the fifty-book mark by his death, the same year that I read him and that the TV series appeared.

Self-absorbed, self-pitying, and self-righteous, these traits kept Farrell a type himself. Robert K. Landers offers a comprehensive biography drawing on not so much Farrell's fiction as his character.

Farrell here has received the attention of a conscientious and skeptical biographer, who keeps his distance a bit from both his subject's increasing grandiosity and his opponents' ideological ferocity. The depiction of his marriages, his affairs, and his anti-Stalinist skirmishes all emerge clearly and without melodrama. Landers, in a massive undertaking, only has three typos throughout, a rarity in these days even among serious books. And, by the way, it's amazing how poor a speller the unedited F. was, judging from his own correspondence here.

Farrell, asleep under the influence with a lit cigarette, incinerated much of his own archives, so the effort Landers makes to reconstruct the life and times of F. is considerable. Yet, you learn little of his actual work, even of Studs. Many admirers are quoted in these pages, but you wonder what the fuss is about, distant as Landers stands from his best work. Not to mention, on the other hand, lots more of his substandard productions. But, as is clear here, he lived long enough to write more slovenly work than stellar prose, unfortunately.

Understandably, some of his later novels gain no more than a single sentence of mention! This approach discourages newcomers from seeking out his lesser-known works, but apparently, Landers implies from the lack of coverage given the vast majority of his published product, they aren't worth the bother.

For decades, driven to keep churning out sub-standard contributions in order to support himself and satisfy his compulsion to create, Farrell poured out much of his waking time-aided by amphetamine addiction-into manic bursts of immersion, He could conjure up, as he had in Studs Lonigan's Southside Chicago's Washington Park neighbourhood, a wealth of precisely recalled descriptions, exactly rendered conversations, and characters drawn from life-his life, and his family. This did not endear him to all of his childhood and adolescent chums, not to mention his relatives, who found themselves not caricatured but recorded in his fiction, with only their names changed. But, protecting no innocents.

A dropout from the eminent University of Chicago, Farrell's studiously amateur but doggedly pursued course of largely autodidactic education led him early to reject the Church and embrace atheism. But, perhaps like Joyce in his creative vision if not his intellectual rigour, he could never truly leave Rome in favour of more rational or chilly cultural climes. As Joyce limned Dublin, so Farrell Chicago. Despite living in New York City most of his life, his best work emerged from his early encounters on the Southside.

And, like a musician playing the oldies circuit, audiences never wanted to hear his new album, his claims that the art he'd just done was his best effort yet. He knew he had made it once, and had to keep that bittersweet realisation for the next forty-five years.

But, in his defiance of the easy way out, in his view of function as a method by which the struggles of an Irish American slum family could be demonstrated, and by his forthright adherence to a cause called by many idealistic but by him somehow achievable, Farrell leaves a legacy better found, as Landers shows, in his refusal to put his characters into either revolutionary romanticism or socialist realism. As early as his first and best work, Farrell promised that he would never toe the party line. When writers were expected to kow-tow to how Lenin ordered art to be manufactured, Farrell broke the mold and hand-crafted his own awkward but endearing figures. When artists were threatened to hammer heroic figures out of proleterian clay, Farrell cleared a path for those for whom truth could never surrender to an ideology. For this, Farrell's Studs and Landers' Farrell deserve credit.

P.S. Studs Lonigan has been reissued by the Library of America.

(Edited from an on-line essay in the Blanket, "Unpopular Front : James T. Farrell then, Margaret Hassan now."
Landers to the Rescue  Nov 2, 2004
Farrell is a remarkably underrated author, and here come Robert K. Landers of the Wilson Quarterly to the rescue. He doesn't think much of many of Farrell's novels, or so it seems, but he thinks that the best of the bunch are among the masterworks of American literature. Unfortunately, his critical skills aren't flexed enough in these pages, and so I wound up severely unimpressed with Farrell as a writer, though as a personality, bon vivant, speed addict, lover and Communist he had few if any peers. Landers is especialy strong at telling Farrell's story through the eyes of the three prominent women in his life. Perhaps the most intriguing of these strong women was Farrell's first wife, Betty, with whom he went to Paris as a very young man and figures in this life as sort of the enduring blazon that "Hadley" was for Hemingway. Sifting through the information gingerly, for I take it that she was still alive when he was writing this book, and still very insightful even though quote old, Farrell paints her as a liar or anyhow an exaggerator who piquantly enough crossed the color line before such things were done, and paid the price when her affair was publicized in Jet magazine or Ebony. Farrell's second wife, the talented actress Hortense Alden, is also a fascinating woman. What I thought was odd is the way that at one point, when she is introduced, Farrell says that she worked with the Lesbian actress Nazimova and "may have been" sexually involved with her. At a later date, after she married Farrell, Landers says they went to visit Nazimova, "Hortense's former lover," with no conditional mentioned this time. Copy editing? Or is it a sign of something more slipshod? The third woman, Cleo, gets nothing but praise, even though he wrote nothing interesting when he was with her, but Landers credits Farrell with prolonging his life and making him happy when he was with her and, according to them both, she didn't even realize he had become addicted to dexedrine. I wish there had been more in the book about Celo's editorship at AMERICAN GIRL magazine, one of the most influential and in retrospect interesting house organs of the period. He's good about Trotskyism, and explaining who was in and who was out at the PARTISAN REVIEW, but he elides over AMERICAN GIRL as though it were nothing. I suspect that, thorough as he is, he didn't read many issues of AG, too bad.

All in all, AN HONEST WRITER is a fascinating read that you won't be able to put down until the whole sad story is done. And the next book you will pick up will be the STUDS LONIGAN trilogy!
A Brilliant Biography of a Once-Forgotten Writer  Apr 22, 2004
Robert K. Landers's "An Honest Writer: The Life and Times of James T. Farrell" tells the life story of a nearly-forgotten author who seems to be making a comeback at the moment. Whether he should or not is a matter of debate, but regardless of what you think of Farrell's work, his life certainly makes for an engrossing read.

Farrell was a kid of the Chicago streets, and much like another writer of Irish descent, James Joyce, he was never able to transcend his roots. Just as Joyce couldn't write about anything but the Dublin of his childhood, so Farrell was never able to successfully write about anything but the Chicago of his youth. Farrell hit it big in the "low dishonest decade" of the 1930s with the "Studs Lonigan" trilogy (recently reissued by both Penguin and the Library of America) and followed it up with a series of five novels about his autobiographical protagonist Danny O'Neill. But although he tried in later years to write more ambitious fiction, his past had its hooks in him and wouldn't let him go. His later work got more and more feeble, to the point where Farrell himself admitted that a lot of critics wished he had conveniently expired after finishing the third of the Studs Lonigan novels, "Judgment Day," at the age of thirty.

Landers does a wonderful job in tracing Farrell's development through the streets of Chicago to the murky political waters of 1930s left-wing politics, to a personal life that was as turbulent as any writer's, and arguably a lot less fortunate (although he caught a break towards the end of his life). It's clear that, between the drinking and the womanizing and the amphetamine-popping, Farrell was no prince to live with, but Landers endows him with a certain nobility as he keeps plugging along, writing book after book, until he's finally done in - as so many people of his generation, from W.H. Auden to Judy Garland, would be - by an addiction to pills.

It's not a pretty life, certainly, but Landers describes it amazingly well, and makes you interested enough to track down some of Farrell's books to see if his early reputation as a gritty chronicler of urban realism might be worth salvaging. I doubt that anyone will make the case for James T. Farrell better than Landers does, and his book should be investigated by anyone who cares about American fiction.

A classic literary biography  Feb 26, 2004
This is an excellent work on a forgotten writer whose Studs Lonigan trilogy had an impact on all of us born before 1950 and who should be (and now probably will be because of Landers fine work) remembered as an important American writer. Landers gives us a picture of the intimacies of Farrell's life--the centrality of Chicago and the Irishexperience there--and also gives a strong insight into the literary culture of America from 1930-1950 and into the way that politics entered the literary arena. Farrell was courageous in facing up to the foolishness of his flirtation with Stalinism and willng to admit that his god had failed while many other novelists of his day continued to support the Soviet Union and to apologize for (when they weren't lying about) its brutality. Robert Landers opens a window onto all this and lets in some much needed fresh air. He shows us an independent mind trying to work his way through these problems and the puzzles of a life spent searching for love and trying to reconcile his past with his present.

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