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Studs Lonigan

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Studs Lonigan

  Table of Contents


  Title Page


  Copyright Page


  Young Lonigan





  The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan

  SECTION ONE - 1917—1918—1919

  SECTION TWO - 1922


  SECTION FOUR - 1926-1929

  Judgment Day




  Fragments from the unpublished death fantasy sequence of “Judgment Day”



  James Thomas Farrell (1904—1979) was known for his many novels depicting lower-middle-class Irish-Catholic life. Born in the South Side slum section of Chicago, his stories deal with the poverty, bigotry, vices, and frustration he encountered. Farrell’s naturalistic style echoed the crudities of his chosen milieu, and it was a source of controversy when his work was originally published; however, the powerful, cumulative effect of his writing helped make Studs Lonigan, his magnum opus, a classic.

  Ann Douglas teaches twentieth-century American studies at Columbia University. She is the author of Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s and has written numerous articles and reviews on American culture.



  Whose encouragement was so helpful

  in completing this trilogy


  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

  Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand. London WC2R 0RL, England

  Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)

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  Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

  Young Lonigan first published in the United States of America by The Vanguard Press 1932 The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan published 1934 Judgment Day published 1935 Studs Lonigan published 1935 This edition with an introduction by Ann Douglas published in Penguin Books 2001

  Copyright James T. Farrell, 1932, 1934, 1935

  Introduction copyright © Ann Douglas, 2001

  All rights reserved

  eISBN : 978-1-101-50316-4

  CIP data available

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  Reading Studs Lonigan for the first time was a revelation to me. From the opening lines, this story of a young “punk” of Irish immigrant origins growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the early decades of the twentieth century held and stirred me as few books ever have. In Studs Lonigan, the conventional barriers between life and art seem to disappear; the words, while powerful in their own right, also serve as evocations, markers of realities stronger, sharper, than language can convey No obvious authorial voice intrudes between reader and character. I was inside Studs’s life, and his world became the only world I had. This, I kept feeling, was real and moving, as close to my consciousness as that intimate stranger, my own body.

  The novel selects its moments carefully—the first book covers five months of Studs’s life in 1916 when he is fourteen; the second details various key episodes, a kind of cinematic montage, between 1917 and New Year’s Day, 1931; the third again tightens its focus to concentrate on six months in 1931, the year of Studs’s death at the age of twenty-nine—yet within these limits, everything is there: all Studs’s conflicting thoughts and feelings, his actions, his moods down to a microshift, and always how he appears, or rather thinks he appears, to others. A creature of the first and largest mass culture society in history, Studs knows no way to live but before an audience, sometimes real, more often imaginary. Everything else, the happy, magical times swimming in Lake Michigan with a pal or sitting in a tree in the park with his girlfriend Lucy, even as he hopes that they will redirect his life, open up a different and better future for him, turn out to be mere respites from the relentless, contradictory imperatives constantly issued to him by every authority he recognizes: be a God-fearing Catholic, his world scolds, be masculine, “hard,” “tough,” and never “soft.”

  Studs is better than the authorities that rule him. He’s sensitive; he hates hurting people, though he often does so. A natural athlete, he can take profound pleasure in the motions and sensations of his body, always more resistant to social programming than the mind. He increasingly longs for yesterday, to be as he was, even as he knows he’s “never really been happy,” because only in youth does the body function as an interpreter of lost languages. Inarticulate as he is, in the privacy of his own mind, he’s an embryonic street-corner poet who can imagine himself as a cloud or a whale—metaphors come unbidden to him at those rare moments when he is at ease.

  Studs know none of this. He equates poets with “pansies.” In his perennial fantasies of a better tomorow, he can conceive of it only in terms of being more important, more impressive, more noticed than he is, of becoming a star; he allocates nothing to the needs of the interior self, rushing everything into the display window where it often languishes unsold. I had never before read a book which acknowledged how much of life is consumed in the unsuccessful management of embarrassment and shame, how incessantly most of us use mental comparison shopping—am I better than he is? Is today more successful than yesterday?—as an impoverished replacement for thought. By the time I finished the book, I cared for Studs more than I had ever cared for a literary character, because I knew him better, better than he knew himself, better, I suspected, than I knew myself. Reading Studs Lonigan is depth work, as restorative as it is startling.

  In the 1970s, after I had moved to New York and began teaching Studs Lonigan as the centerpiece of a course on the 1930s at Columbia University, a friend introduced me to James Farrell, then in his seventies and living in an extremely modest East Side apartment. He was still writing every day from 8 A.M. to 12—“Noon?” an acquaintance asked. Farrell looked surprised. No, he meant 12 midnight. “The night is passing,” he wrote in a late novel. “I shall change the sentence. The night is in process. I shall change the sentence again.” His characters were just as real to him as I had supposed. He kept a collection of heavily annotated notecards near his “study” (a table holding a typewriter and facing the window, placed at one end of his kitchen), one card for each of the characters in his vast Balzacian chronicle of American life.

  What struck me most about Farrell, the man, was his sweetness. His enormous ambition, his hard-won knowledge of the evils of the world, were matched, indeed, over-matched, by his willingness to trust, his she
er capacity for hope. On one of my visits to him, he said he was tired. Would I mind if he took a nap? Of course I didn’t, I said, expecting him to retreat from the small living room into his smaller bedroom. Instead, he lay down on the sofa before me and fell asleep. Mere acquaintance as I was, for a precious half hour, I kept watch over the man a few still called America’s greatest living novelist.

  James Thomas Farrell came out of a “plebian” environment, in his words, of “spiritual poverty.” He was born on February 27, 1904, in Chicago to a struggling family of second-generation Irish Catholic immigrants. In 1907, his father, James Farrell, a teamster, unable to support his growing family (his wife had fifteen children, six of whom survived), placed young Jim with his maternal grandparents, both born in Ireland, both illiterate, but living in relative comfort in Chicago on the income donated by their more successful children. In 1915, his grandparents moved into the South Fifties, the neighborhood chronicled in Studs Lonigan. Although his parents had periods of relative prosperity, at one point living in an apartment near his grandparents, much of their lives passed in various squalid homes in Chicago’s Irish shantytown.

  Farrell’s first task, as he described it in a letter of 1977, was “a willed effort at becoming alienated.” Like the Danny O’Neill character in Studs (Danny later became the subject of a major Farrell pentology), Farrell worked his way through the University of Chicago, shedding his Catholic upbringing as “lies,” in Danny’s word, absorbing the works of William James, John Dewey, Freud, and other leading psychologists and sociologists, while voraciously reading American and European literature: H. L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Herman Melville, and James Joyce were critical influences on his literary development. He was sure that the “greatest achievement in the world was to earn for yourself the right to say—I am an artist.” “Slob” (1929), his first published story, was also his first rendering of the real life “Studs Lonigan,” a young man he had known growing up in Chicago; the first volume of the Studs trilogy, Young Lonigan, appeared in 1931, the last, Judgment Day, in 1935. Farrell had spent 1931 in Paris with his first wife, Dorothy, trying the expatriate life and discovering it had little meaning for him. His subject, pressing on him with a weight and a grandeur almost inconceivable today, was America, and in 1932 he returned to make his home in New York City, where he remained until his death in 1979.

  Despite the critical neglect that befell Farrell in the 1940s and 1950s, an era of record-breaking American prosperity whose beneficiaries were largely uninterested in literary reminders of those they had forgotten or wronged—a neglect that continues in various forms to this day—Farrell’s was a classic immigrant success story. By his own unaided efforts, he had gotten what, in his words, “a son of Groton acquires as if by natural right,” an education in the fullest sense of the word. Later critics might dismiss him, but his productivity testified that he didn’t believe them; when he died, Farrell left over fifty books of stories and novels behind him, roughly one for each year of his writing career. There can be no doubt that after the 1930s Farrell used overproduction as a substitute for the adequate critical support he failed to find; writing itself became the primary means of fueling his motivation to write. But if writing was, as Farrell believed, a principled act of rebellion against, to borrow the title of a later book, A World I Never Made, defiance of his critics constituted in itself a victory.

  Farrell never saw himself as in any sense defeated, yet, in a country which has built itself on the fact and myth of individual success, Farrell’s great subject from first to last was failure. He thought of titling one early collection of stories “Chamber of Horrors,” and Studs Lonigan, like much great American fiction from Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tales to Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, Richard Wright’s Native Son, and Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur, is, among other things, a horror story. For Farrell, as for Wright, terror was meant as a wakeup call, the wailing siren, the gunshot, that tells people they are in an emergency zone. He wrote with a political, personal, and artistic intensity by and large foreign to today’s postmodern novelists, to expose wrongdoing and wrong thinking, to chronicle the hopes and fears of those who suffered from them, to reach and save, as he put it, “if an antiquated word be permitted, ‘souls.’” He wanted to “alienate” himself from the milieu that formed him only, in the words of his alter ego, Danny O’Neill, to “do battle so that others did not remain unfulfilled as he and his family had been.”

  The 1930s were Farrell’s great years, not only because his work then found important and enthusiastic appreciation, but because the decade’s special circumstances, all the more significant for being anomalous in twentieth-century American history, corresponded to his deepest artistic gifts and needs. The era of the Great Depression (so called because earlier depressions, as various characters in the final volume of the Studs trilogy repeatedly remark, paled beside it) was the single moment when the United States collectively faced the prospect of catastrophic failure. Studs always thrills to the sight and thought of the American flag because, as he proudly reminds himself, “Old Glory had never kissed the ground in defeat.” Unlike other Western democracies, with the exception of the Civil War, before the Depression, America had suffered no major losses in its short history—no conquest or occupation by foreign powers, no long-lasting economic setback in its ever-growing productivity and affluence, a material prosperity whose benefits, various spokesmen claimed, would one day reach every (white male) citizen, no matter how humble his origins. The 1910s and 1920s, spurred on by the new automobile industry, the years in which Studs’s family finds economic success and he enjoys his own brief moments of glory, saw a peak of American wealth and audacious self-confidence. Europe was finished as a source of funds and fashions—“who could tell us any longer what was fashionable and what was fun?” a cocky F. Scott Fitzgerald asked. It was an “age of miracles” with “a prize for everyone.” America was to set the global example in modern technology and democratic practice.

  Then came the stock market crash of October 1929, when the decade seemed, in Fitzgerald’s image, to leap from a window to its death, leaving in its wake one quarter of Americans unemployed, the majority of them the sole breadwinners of their households. Seven billion dollars in depositors’ money disappeared amid the failure of some five thousand banks, while the gross national product rapidly declined to half its 1929 level. The new president, Herbert Hoover, whom Studs’s anti-Semitic father, Paddy, regards as a mere tool of the international Jewish bankers bent on America’s ruin, could do nothing, it seemed, to reverse the collapse of America’s economy. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who took office in 1933, would indeed make a difference, but Studs Lonigan’s story, even though Farrell wrote its concluding chapters well into the Roosevelt era, stops in 1931, before FDR was elected.

  Some Americans looked abroad for answers, not to democratic Europe, as bankrupted by the Depression as the United States, but to fascist Europe, and to Communist Russia, then attempting under Stalin what seemed to a signifcant portion of the American left the most radical, extensive, and hopeful experiment in collectivist, anti-capitalist, and egalitarian life ever undertaken by a modern nation. People on the right as well as on the left were sure capitalism was doomed. Paddy Lonigan was hardly alone in thinking that an American Mussolini might be the ticket. The all-powerful Chicago newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst, whose papers turn up regularly in Studs Lonigan, cautioned his readers in 1934 that “Whenever you hear a prominent American called a ‘Fascist,’ you can usually make up your mind that the man is simply a LOYAL CITIZEN WHO STANDS FOR AMERICANISM.” One 1930s investigator found between 130 and 160 fascist groups in the United States, mainly comprised of lower-middle class Americans like Paddy Lonigan.

  More immigrants left the United States than arrived. A Soviet trading company with headquarters in New York received 350 applications a day from Americans wanting jobs in the U.S.S.R. In the mid-1930s, the Book-of-the-Month Club picked up th
e New Russia Primer, a study comparing Russia and America to the latter’s detriment. Three new editions of Karl Marx’s Capital were issued between 1929 and 1936; by some estimates, Communist Party membership in the U.S. rose from nine thousand in 1931 to twenty-five thousand in 1934. A new genre, the “proletarian novel,” detailing the hardships of the working class and the maleficence of capitalist bosses, produced some fifty books between 1931 and 1935. The fact that today we know how economically unsuccessful and genocidally repressive the Soviet experiment was should not diminish our appreciation of a historical moment when the United States actually entertained alternatives not generated by its own example. America has lost more than it has gained by its insistence on its right, a right only available to a superpower, to see itself, as no other nation ever has for long, only through its own eyes. The 1930s were quite possibly the most intellectually active and exciting years of America’s history, and Farrell was at the center of the debate.

  Though Farrell was for a few years in the early to mid-1930s what was known as a “fellow traveler”—someone who shared certain of the Communist Party’s goals and ideas while refusing membership in it—he advanced almost from the start a moderate position (a moderation seldom recognized amid the passion with which he defended it). Rejecting both the high art-as-tradition creed of the self-styled Humanists led by T. S. Eliot and the Soviet example of literary realism advocated by New Masses editor and author Michael Gold, Farrell called for an art both engagé and free. He observed Stalin’s homicidal “purges” of the Soviet Communist Party in the 1930s first hand when he joined the American defense committee for Stalin’s greatest adversary, Leon Trotsky, who was first exiled, then assassinated in Mexico in 1940 by Stalin’s agents, a man whose work Farrell admired until his own death. To his mind, no thinking person could idealize the Soviet Union after such open exhibitions of Stalin’s totalitarian rule. Even more important, because Farrell was first and last a writer, he knew that great novels are in some sense “accidents”; no real writer can work in the conscious service of any ideology. Farrell always refused to say that Studs was a victim of his environment; the cause of his plight had been “left uncertain.” Studs’s story was a “biological and social tragedy,” in Farrell’s words; Studs himself, as all living people, considered closely, must always be, a “mystery.”

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