Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell Download (read online) free eBook (PDF ePub Kindle)

Studs Lonigan

An unparalleled example of American naturalism, the Studs Lonigan trilogy follows the hopes and dissipations of its remarkable main character�a would-be “tough guy” and archetypal adolescent, born to Irish-American parents on Chicago�s South Side�through the turbulent years of World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression. The three novels�Young Lonigan, The


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    I’d like to nudge a few readers into trying this novel, but if not that, I do hope that the review might be a useful source of information about the author, his greatest work, his writing, and his milieu.

    The Author
    James T. Farrell

    James T. Farrell (1904 – 1979) was born in Chicago, Illinois, to a large Irish-American family. 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 grandmother when he was three year

    The Author

    James T. Farrell

    James T. Farrell (1904 – 1979) was born in Chicago, Illinois, to a large Irish-American family. 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 grandmother when he was three years old. Farrell attended Mt. Carmel High School, then known as St. Cyril. He later attended the University of Chicago. He began writing when he was 21 years old. A novelist, journalist, and short story writer known for his realistic descriptions of the working class South Side Irish of Chicago’s South Side. Married three times, to two women – with one of whom he had two sons.

    Farrell was active in Trotskyist politics and joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). He ended his participation with the group in 1946 to join the Workers’ Party. In On Native Grounds Alfred Kazin comments, “Unlike all the little people in left-wing letters who loved the working class to death but could never touch them, Farrell was joined by every instinct to men and women who have never known the barest security, who have clawed the earth to live from one day to the next.”

    Farrell the writer

    In Wiki’s Bibliography, over 50 works are shown for Farrell, starting in 1932 with the first part of the Studs trilogy, and ending with a work published in 1978. Only three of them, the three parts of Studs Lonigan, have individual articles. The implication is that the great majority of Farrell’s works had pretty much disappeared from the public eye by the turn of the century.

    Besides novels, short stories, and poetry, this list or works contains many that are apparently individual essays or political tracts, or collections of such. Examples are “Who are the 18 prisoners in the Minneapolis Labor Case?: how the Smith “Gag” Act has endangered workers rights and free speech” (New York : Civil Rights Defense Committee, 1944) and Reflections at Fifty and Other Essays, (1954).

    Studs Lonigan is the work that Farrell is remembered for. It has appeared on more than one list of the best American novels of the twentieth century, and has been (I think) continually in print since it was first published in the 1930s as three separate novels: Young Lonigan (1932), The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934), and Judgment Day (1935).

    There’s another series of novels which Farrell wrote called the “Danny O’Neill Pentology”, which has received some renewed interest in recent years. Though these novels were apparently out of print for an extended time, they have reappeared in the 21st century. This series is comprised of A World I Never Made (1936), No Star Is Lost (1938), Father and Son (1940), My Days of Anger (1943), and The Face of Time (1953).

    Both series tell a story of the development and maturing of characters brought up in the Irish South Side of Chicago, beginning at the turn of the last century. They are, however, two sides of a coin. Studs is a descending narrative, while Danny is an ascending one. That is, in the more famous series, Farrell tells a story of an ultimately failed life, a character unable to overcome, at least partially through his own shortcomings, the environment into which he is born.

    On the other hand, in Danny O’Neill, Farrell in fact writes a fictional narrative which has many aspects of an autobiography. (view spoiler) Danny is confronted with the same overall environment that Studs is. His experiences, especially when young, are not much different than Studs, as far as the bleakness which permeates them. Kazin characterizes these formative experiences of young O’Neil as “… the toneless saga of drink, of endless, life-shattering recrimination, of (the) little boy … who wanted baseball and a quiet table, but who never forgot, though his grandmother took him away, that at home his parents and brothers and sisters were slowly dying together.”

    But through both chance and his own determination, Danny O’Neill was able to make a longer, more productive, and more satisfying life. As was J.T. Farrell.

    II. The Philosophy


    The outlook of Farrell’s writing, particularly in the two series of novels mentioned, is firmly in the tradition of literary naturalism. Naturalism is usually ascribed earliest to the works of Emile Zola (1840 – 1902). Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) is also held to be in this tradition, though he is also described as a romantic. Some of the early themes which seemed to rise out of this human/social outlook of these writers included man’s actions being determined by his environment, and the suggestion that man should be viewed most truly as an animal (thus showing the influence of Darwin on naturalism). This writing was initially attacked by many as immoral, irreligious, etc. But as the nineteenth century wore on, much of the criticism turned to interest and eventually to praise. (Zola was nominated for the first two Nobel Prizes in Literature in 1901 and 1902.)

    “Realism” and “naturalism” are sometimes used almost interchangeably. An Introduction to Literary Criticism claims that realism is primarily a matter of technique, “giving an authentic picture of ordinary life, usually by showing typical people of the middle and lower classes engaged in ordinary pursuits, and by recording their activities in great and concrete detail.” Naturalism is called “an extreme and special type of realism”, which as Zola said, tries to take “a slice of life” (tranche de vie) “and subject it to dispassionate, almost scientific analysis.”

    As for American writers in the naturalist camp, the one mentioned most frequently seems to be Stephen Crane (1871-1900). Others are Frank Norris (1870-1903), Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) and Jack London (1876-1916). Alfred Kazin begins On Native Grounds with a chapter titled “The Opening Struggle for Realism”, in which he comments that by the 1890s, “Realism had passed silently into naturalism, and become less a method than a metaphysics.” (Hence the name of this review section.) For Kazin, this first phase of American naturalism occurs in the years 1890-1917, particularly in the first half of that period. Then, after focusing on the writing of the post-war decade, up to the sounding of the tocsin in 1929, the last section of his study is called The Literature of Crisis. Dealing with the 1930s, its opening chapter is “The Revival of Naturalism”. Thus we arrive at James T. Farrell and Studs Lonigan.

    III. The Novel

    My edition

    The edition of the trilogy I have read (now twice) is a Signet paperback, published in the 1960s. It includes an Introduction written for Signet by Farrell (© 1958), an Afterward by Philip Allan Friedman (© 1965), and a Selected Bibliography: Farrell’s novels, short stories, and nonfiction; and a couple dozen works of biography and criticism of Farrell’s writings.

    Farrell relates in the Introduction that he began work on the first volume of Studs in 1929. At this time, we are told in Friedman’s Afterward, “his college professors viewed him as a tempestuous radical; his classmates regraded him as a Dreiserian and Nietzschean iconoclast. His friend Joe Cody later declared that Farrell sometimes terrified him … He scorned regular work, sleeping in flophouses, borrowing textbooks from Cody, working only out of dire necessity, and writing at demon speed.”

    The dating makes apparent that much of the first novel and both following books were written after the market crash in October ’29 and the first years of the depression. But even though the shock of these years clearly contributed not only incidents, but much of the background to the final novel, that brutal time did not determine the naturalistic point of view that Farrell has in the novel. That point of view, his philosophy, was already there.

    Naturalism in the novel

    Kazin opines that Farrell was “perhaps the most powerful naturalist who ever worked in the American tradition”. Friedman comments that in the novels, “the poolroom gang supersedes all other influences. Studs must perforce reject the values of his religion, his school, and his family to seek the nod of recognition from his peers, without realizing that they, too, are part of the sociocultural swamp, though slightly away from the center of stagnation.” Further on, he writes that “the boys (Farrell) grew up with were ashamed to be themselves; hence they pretended to be “hardboiled”, cruder than they were, and experienced men of the world.“

    This rejection of family and traditional values is one of the hallmarks of naturalism. (Of course it could be pointed out that many literary traditions include such rejection – but perhaps it’s also fair to say that those traditions exhibit, in this, an affinity with the naturalist outlook?)

    Friedman goes on, still speaking of Farrell, that “He was ashamed of his parents’ ‘shanty Irish’ existence. He despised his ignorant mother’s pietism; he despised his father’s way of escape from life in drunken bouts of forgetfulness … He felt rejected by both parents for separating him from his brothers and sisters … He learned his scorching lingo from both sides of a family that had raised cursing to a communicative art.” And religion specifically, Farrell implies throughout Studs Lonigan, “is ineffective not only because it points to values mainly to be realized in the hereafter, but also because it fosters resignation and blindness in the face of ills that beset mankind.” So, comparing the two protagonists of the Studs and O’Neill novels, it becomes natural to conclude that for Farrell, a rejection of religion is the key to facing and overcoming those ills, rather than simply giving up and letting one’s life waste away.

    The other naturalistic theme which comes to the fore in Studs is the view that man is a product of his environment. Now we’ve just seen that for Farrell himself, the ultimate overcoming of at least part of that environmental determinism can be achieved. But it isn’t easy, and many are defeated in the trying, or never think to try.

    There are characters in the Studs trilogy who, even in the face of the depression, are shown to achieve a better life. But his sisters achieve this by picking the right man to marry. As for the men picked, along with others like Red Kelley who achieves a modest position in the political machine, the question is whether they are rising above their environment, or simply finding a different mooring within it, than their less successful friends. Friedman thinks Farrell’s view is that these “prosperous” friends “will operate opportunistically and perpetuate social forces that lead to the tragic life of a Studs Lonigan.”

    Chicago 1916 – 1932

    In 1900 Chicago had a population of 1.7 million people. It was growing faster than any other city in the U.S., from both immigration from abroad and the beginning inundations of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South. A few years later it had likely passed the 2 million mark. This rapid growth had made it one of the largest cities in the world, exceeded in those years by only London, New York, Paris and Tokyo.

    The following is from American Pharaoh (excerpt here… ), a biography of Richard Daley, the infamous mayor of Chicago from 1955 to 1976, when he died in office.

    The whole city of Chicago had a reputation for coarseness and for lacking the style and sophistication of older cities like Philadelphia or Boston. “Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again,” Rudyard Kipling wrote after visiting in 1889. “It is inhabited by savages.”
    Chicago was a tough town dominated by factories that belched black smoke. Theodore Dreiser, who roamed the city as a reporter, marveled in his book Newspaper Days at the “hard, constructive animality” of the rougher parts of Chicago. It was … a town in which displaced farmhands and struggling immigrants competed for space in ramshackle tenements and rooming houses, and hooligans roamed the streets. Block after block of “disorderly houses” did a brisk business corrupting hordes of guileless young girls, like Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, who arrived daily from small towns in a desperate search for a better life. It was Chicago saloonkeepers who invented the Mickey Finn, a chloral hydrate laced drink slipped to solitary patrons so they could be easily robbed.

    The Irish were one of the first national groups to move to Chicago in large numbers, starting in the 1830s and 1840s. By the years of Farrell’s novel (and Farrell’s youth), they had established themselves in large areas of Chicago’s South Side. One of these areas was the meat-packing district, a brutal and polluted part of the city. American Pharaoh contains an uncomfortable narrative of this part of the city (Bridgeport) in the years when Richard Daley (born 1902) was growing up.
    Farrell’s (and Studs’) neighborhood was a little less hair-raising than Bridgeport, though still in the South Side Irish region of the city. From Young Lonigan we know that Studs and his family live on South Wabash Avenue, in an area bounded by East 60th Street on the south, S. State Street to the west, East 57th Street on the north, and S. Prairie Avenue to the east. A little farther east, across Calumet Avenue, lies Washington Park, mentioned often in the novel. This neighborhood was called the South Fifties.


    The Chicago area west of Washington Park
    click on image to go to Fliker for enlargement – then click again there

    In the years 1916 – 1919 the black population of Chicago increased by upwards of fifty thousand, all of those arriving crowding into the burgeoning “black belt” of Chicago – an area bordering the Irish neighborhoods on the South Side that had been there for half a century. The two groups competed for both jobs and housing, adding to the racial tensions which were of course present. In August of 1919 racial riots broke out which lasted for a week, and included casualties (mostly black) and property destruction (almost all black, particularly housing properties). Ethnic Irish were heavily implicated in the rioting and gang violence, having in these years become increasingly concerned with defending their territory against any and all newcomers – both other ethnic whites and southern blacks.…

    Studs Lonigan

    The three parts of Studs Lonigan cover the years 1916 (Young Lonigan), 1917-1929 (Young Manhood) and 1929-1932 (Judgement Day). Kazin has written that, “scene by scene, character by character, Farrell’s books are built by force rather than imagination, and it is the laboriously contrived solidity, the perfect literalness of each representation, that give’s his work its density and harsh power.” (my emphasis) This certainly applies to his most famous novel.

    And Friedman says, “The very monotony of the day-by-day and year-by-year record of Studs’ life sears into one’s mind.” I find this comment to be a brilliant evocation of the effect of the novel.

    Jack Nicholson as Studs Lonigan 1960
    the empty, confused expression is perfect …

    This character, Studs Lonigan – what does the reader find? how does the reader judge him, or perhaps we should say, react to him?

    Crude. Racist. Sex-obsessed. Confused – confused about everything – his religion, his family, his friends, his own worth, his goals in life, his wants, his desires. A dreamer. Over and over (yes, a bit monotonous) we see him watching a movie, reading s brief story in a paper, or simply listening to another telling of something – and his reaction is to picture himself in the situation, to imagine heroic Studs rescuing a girl, killing Germans, finding gold in the Yukon, saving someone’s life, being a champion football player, succeeding in business, making a fortune, rescuing his family from financial difficulties, having sex with a woman glimpsed on a bus or walking along the street.

    Yes, Studs is mostly talk, or dreams. Not too much action, other than following the lead of others.

    And this, I think, is the ultimate tragedy of the novel. We see glimpses of a young man who has, besides the above traits, a mostly hidden reservoir of decency. But time and again, just when we hope, maybe even think, that something is about to break through and maybe change the arc of the narrative, even a tiny bit – no. Something comes along – a friend calls out from the pool-room door; he catches a glimpse of a woman on the street; another train of thought interrupts – and, again, nothing comes of it. This can of course turn some readers away. But, for me, it does become increasingly tragic. I found myself rooting for Studs – “C’mon, you jerk, get it together. Tell her you love her, don’t be afraid of seeming weak or a sissy.”

    But though there are small victories here and there, they soon become abnegated with more defeats. Not so much a constant backward going, but a never-getting-anywhere back and forth, which, being overlaid with a steady downward path relative to the lives of others, has an end which disheartens one.

    When I first read the novel perhaps half a century ago, I thought it the saddest read I’d had. Now, the second read has confirmed that judgment.