J. G. Farrell (1935-79)

Quotations


Life
[James Gordon Farrell;] b. Liverpool, of an Anglo-Irish lineage associated with Sligo, as well as with Cork and Portlaoise (on the maternal side); played cricket and rugby and captained prep-school teams; brought up in Dalkey from 1947, travelling to England for school; gave his attention to rugby at Oxford; struck by polio, 1956 and slightly slightly disabled thereafter; spent two years teaching English in France, while working in novel A Man from Elsewhere (1963); issued A Girl in the Head (1067) and The Lung (1965), winning the Harnes Fellowship on the strength of which he travelled to Cuernavaca; issued Troubles (1970), set in Co. Wexford at the 300-room Majestic hotel, run by Edward Spencer, where Major Major Brendan Archer comes to stay, recovering from war-wounds;
 
Troubles wins Booker prize in competition with Iris Murdoch, and in turn becomes the inspiration of a poem by Derek Mahon (“A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford”); travelled to India and Nepal; issued Siege of Krishnapur (1973), winner of Man Booker Award and first of his “Empire” trilogy; more Eastern travel followed; issued Singapore Grip (1978); suffered deterioration of health with onset of long-term effects of polio, and moved to Ireland to avail of tax benefits on advice of his doctor and his accountant, settling in West Cork, March 1979; The drowned after 149 days in Ireland having being washed off a rock while fishing, 11 Aug. 1979, in an accident witnessed by Pauline Foley, an Englishwoman; recovered a month later; bur. at St. James's Church, Durrus, Co. Cork, The Hill on the Station, which he was finalising when he died, was issued posthumously by John Spurling (1981); MSS notes held in TCD Library; Farrell was reknowned for his independence in dealing with publishers and agents; his novel Troubles won for The Lost Man Booker Priz`e in 2010, one-off prize for books published in 1970; his time in Ireland is the subject of an RTÉ radio programme,“The Last 149 Days of J. G. Farrell” (Dec. 2010). FDA

Get “The Last 149 Days of J. G. Farrell” (Dec. 2010)

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Works
Fiction
  • A Man From Elsewhere [New Authors Ltd., No. 40] (London: Hutchinson 1963), 190pp.;
  • The Lung (London: Hutchinson 1965), 207pp.;
  • A Girl In The Head (London: Cape 1967), 223pp., Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Pan Books 1969), 203pp., and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Fontana 1981), 221pp.;
  • Troubles (London: Jonathan Cape 1970), 446pp.; Do. (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1975), 411pp., and Do. (pb. edns. incl. Flamingo 1983, 1984, 1986, Phoenix 1993];
  • The Siege of Krishnapur (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1973), 344pp., and Do. (Glasgow: Fontana/Flamingo 1987; London: Orion 1997), 314pp.;
  • The Singapore Grip (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1978), 558pp.; Do. [num pb. edns. in 1980, 1984, 1985], and Do. (London: Phoenix 1992), 601pp.;
  • John Spurling, ed., The Hill Station: An Unfinished Novel and an Indian Diary (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1981; Flamingo 1987), 254pp., and Do. [prep. edn.] (London: Phoenix 1997), 256pp.
 
See also Lavinia Greacen, J. G. Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries (Cork UP 2009) 300pp.

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Criticism
Studies
  • John Riddy, The Siege of Krishnapur [York Notes] (Harlow: Longman 1985), 71pp.;
  • Ronald Binns, J. G. Farrell [Contemporary writers] (London: Methuen 1986), [96]pp.;
  • Ralph Carne & Jennifer Levitt, Troubled Pleasures: The Fiction of J. G. Farrell (Dublin: Four Courts Press 1997), 173pp.;
  • Lavinia Greacen, J. G. Farrell: The Making of a Writer (London: Bloomsbury 2000), 448pp., 16pp. ills.;
  • Ralph E. Crane, ed., J. G. Farrell: The Critical Grip (Dublin: Four Courts Press 1998), 208pp. [but
  • cf. Ralph J. Crane & Jennifer Livett, supra];
  • John McLeod, J. G. Farrell [Writers and Their Works] (Northcote House 2008), 127pp.
 
Articles
  • Valentine Cunningham, ‘Good Pig’, in The Listener, 30 Aug. 1973 [q.pp.];
  • Derek Mahon, [feature-article on Farrell], in Vogue (25 June 1976) [q.pp.;
  • chk date];
  • Jeremy Brooks, ‘Historical Novels: The Yarn of Humanity’, in The Sunday Times, 17 Sept. 1978 [q.pp.];
  • Francis King, ‘The Loner Who Loved Company’, in Sunday Telegraph (19 Aug. 1979), p.14;
  • Derek Mahon, ‘J. G. Farrell, 1935-1979’ [obituary], in The New Statesman (31 Aug. 1979), p.313;
  • Francis King, ‘The Loner who Loved Company’,in Sunday Telegraph (19 Aug. 1979), p.14;
  • John Spurling, ‘Jim Farrell: A Memoir’, in The Times (11 April 1981), p.6;
  • Nicholas Shrimpton, ‘Talent for Thought’, in New Statesman (24 April 1981) [q.pp.];
  • Laurence Bristow-Smith, ‘Tomorrow is Another Day: The Essential J. G. Farrell’, in Critical Quarterly, 25 (1983) [q.pp.];
  • Margaret Scanlan, ‘Rumours of War: Elizabeth Bowen’s Last September and J. G. Farrell’s Troubles’, in Éire-Ireland (Fall 1985), pp.43-55;
  • Ronald Binns, ‘Chronicler of the Thin Red Line’, in Times Higher Education Supplement, 709 (1986) [q.pp.];
  • A. V. Krishna, ‘History and the Art of Fiction: J. G. Farrell’s Example: The Siege of Krishnapur’, in Literary Criteria, 23 (1988) [q.pp.];
  • Fiona MacPhail, ‘Major and Majestic, J. G. Farrell’s Troubles’, in Jacqueline Genet, ed., The Big House in Ireland (Dingle: Brandon; NY: Barnes & Noble 1991), pp.243-52;
  • Lars Harveitt, ‘The Imprint of Recorded Events in the Narrative Form of J. G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur’, English Studies, 74 (Oct. 1993) [q.pp.];
  • Malcolm Dean, ‘A Personal Memoir’, in The Hill Station [rep. edn. (London: Phoenix 1993) [q.pp.];
  • Bridget O’Toole, ‘Not a Crumb, Not a Wrinkle: J. G. Farrell at Work’, in Irish Studies Review (Autumn 1995), pp.27-30 [a memoir];
  • Ralph J. Crane & Jennifer Livett, eds., Troubled Pleasures: The Fiction of J. G. Farrell (Dublin: Four Courts 1997), 173pp. [chap. per novel];
  • Gerwin Strobl, ‘J. G. Farrell’s Troubles and the unravelling of the Union’, in Irish Encounters: Poetry, Politics and Prose, ed. Alan Marshall & Neil Sammells (Bath: Sulis Press 1998) [Chap. 13; qpp.].
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See also Bernard Bergonzi, ‘Fictions of History’, in The Situation of the Novel [2nd edn.] (London: Macmillan 1979), pp.214-37; Frederic Jameson, ‘Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, New Left Review, 146 (1984), pp.53-92; Frederic Jameson, ‘Third world Literature in the era of multi-national capitalism’, Social Texts, 15 (1986), pp.65-88; Victoria Humphreys, ‘J. G. Farrell’s Use of History in Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur, The Singapore Grip, and The Hill Station’ (BA. Diss., UUC 1996) [numerous bibl. citations supra from this source.]
 
See also JG Farrell: 149 Days in the Life Of, p[broadcast], prod. by Ciaran Cassidy, on RTÉ Radio 1 (Sat. 18 Dec., 6.05pm; Sun. 19 Dec., 7pm).

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Commentary
J. Ardle McArdle, review of Lavina Greacen, J. G. Farrell: the Making of a Writer (Bloomsbury), in Books Ireland (April 2000), p.110-111: notes that Farrell identified with Geoffrey Firmin in Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano; self-destructive, monogamous, dependent, dominated, an obsessive writer; made full use of personal experience; Quaker family who moved from Sligo to Liverpool; mother’s family originated in London but moved to Cork and then Portlaoise; parents lived in India and Burma before his birth; raised in Dalkey; captained rugby and cricket teams at Terra Nova prep. school; lifelong struggle with conformity; family moved to Ireland in 1947, travelling to school in England by boat; played rugby mostly at Oxford; struck by polio, 1956; two years teaching English in France; published A man from Elsewhere (1963); also A Girl in the Head, here called Nabokovian and The Lung; Harnes fellowship; visited Cuernavaca and identified death of empire colonialism as his theme; found setting for The Troubles on Block Island, New Hampshire; Faber Prize, 1970; became friends with Sonia Orwell and Jan Rhys; travelled to India and Nepal; Siege of Krishnapur, Booker winner 1973; health deteriorated; The Singapore Grip; worked in The Hill on the Station; moved to West Cork, 1980; drowned 11 Aug.1979; had a way with women; ‘there was always a shadowy girlfriend ... One always thought he was involved with somebody, but who?’; remarks that the biography is much concerned with his ‘Jenkyll and Hyde’ personality, his friendships with women, none of whom really reached him; counted as the loss of the best historical novelist; quotes Greacen: ‘’What he would have loved was a marriage that had already evolved through the agonies to the stage of sitting on each side of the fire without having to talk, both contentedly reading. But it was impossible for any woman to see it through to the peaceful reaches beyond. She would have had to be mature beyond her years’.

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Mary Whipple, review of The Siege of Krishnapur, in Desi Journal [online]: Farrell is no apologist for colonialism. In fact, all his novels show the absurdity of colonial pretensions—of the Anglo-Irish in the days of the Irish independence movement (in Troubles), of the British ex-pats in 1941 in Singapore during its fall to the Japanese (in The Singapore Grip), and here in the Booker Prize-winning novel, The Siege of Krishnapur. In every case, he puts his colonialist characters under the microscope, then skewers their arrogant and superior attitudes with the rapier of his wit, subjecting them to satire, depicting them with irony and understatement, and juxtaposing them and their narrowly focused lives against the realities of the world around them. Remarkably, he does this with enough subtlety that we can recognise his characters as individuals, rather than total stereotypes, at the same time that we see their absurdity and recognise the damage they have done in their zeal to spread their “superior” culture. [...] By concentrating on the characters of the English in the Residence, rather than widening the focus to include the outside world of India’s local population, Farrell is able to make their behaviour appear ridiculous in its own right, rather than ridiculous in comparison to other cultures. His witty use of irony, understatement, and a sense of the absurd convey his disapproval of colonialism without resorting to the harshness of polemics. Through his precise imagery, his acute eye for memorable and revealing details, his unerring ear for dialogue, and his ability to maintain pace and suspense, Farrell creates a historical novel with the enduring qualities which make it as relevant today as it was thirty years ago when it was first published. As one sees the attitudes and effects of colonialism in Krishnapur and views them within the historical context, one cannot help but consider other places and other countries which have been subjected to similar “colonialism.” Ultimately, one must consider the extent to which the colonial “mentality” continues. Farrell’s novel, written thirty years ago, provides a framework from which the reader may take a long view. (See Desi Journal [Modern Indians living in the Diaspora]; click here for full review.]

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Mary Whipple, review of Troubles, in Mostly Fiction.com [online]: “[...] The Majestic Hotel, with its echoes of His Majesty, is a symbol of British rule in Ireland, which will be obvious to the reader. Perched on the coast of southeast Ireland, it faces England and Wales, but the storms, tides, and destructive winds off the Irish Sea have scoured its façade and undermined its structure. [...] Major Brendan Archer, newly released from hospital where he has been recovering from the long-term emotional effects of his wartime experience, arrives at the ironically named Majestic Hotel on a bleak and rainy day to reintroduce himself to his fiancée Angela, daughter of the proprietor, and, if they agree to marry, to return with her to a home in England. The Major, however, is greeted by no one upon his arrival at the hotel desk, and he must find his own way to the Palm Court,  “a vast, shadowy cavern in which…beds of oozing mould supported banana and rubber plants, hairy ferns, elephant grass and creepers that dangled from above like emerald intestines.” Despite the claustrophobic and depressing atmosphere, and the lack of an immediate betrothal, the Major remains at the hotel, off and on, for three years, as it begins, literally, to fall around the ears of the inhabitants, and the rebellions and incursions by local farmers and “Shinners” become more ominous. [...] Injecting small news stories throughout the narrative, Farrell sets up global parallels to the rebellion in Ireland, widening his scope by illuminating that time in postwar British history when virtually all the colonies of the empire were simultaneously agitating for independence. Newspaper stories about the British army’s firing on the populace in Amritsar, the laying down of arms by the Connaught Rangers in India in sympathy with the Irish people, a “native” uprising in South Africa, along with the Chicago Riots and the Bolshevist attacks in Kiev give wider scope to the Irish rebellion and its attendant violence. When Edward and the Major finally begin to shoot the Majestic’s cats, and Edward shoots his beloved, blind dog, the reader is prepared for a final round of violence at the Majestic and almost welcomes it.

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Quotations
Last words (Letter to Bridget O’Toole): ‘I just got back from a rapid and exhausting trip to Cork and Dublin in the course of which I hope I bought a house - an old farmhouse on the very end of the peninsula between Dunmanus and Bantry Bays, on the side of a hill locally known as Letter Mountain. Ach, vot is zis? Ve haf heard of ze vine lakes and ze butter mountain, now ve are haffing a letter mountain? It's a splendid place, but very exposed, so if you need a wuthering you must come and stay. You must come and stay anyway as I'm hoping to buy a sailing dinghy and want you to give me lessons. Provided the sale goes through without a hitch I'm going to make a determined effort to settle down there. It's beyond Kilcrohane if you have a map. London already seems far away.’ (Quoted in Lavinia Greacen, J. G. Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries, Cork UP 2009; also online at Cork UP and Diaspora List, 13 Dec. 2011 - and see note, infra.)

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology, Derry: Field Day 1991, Vol. 3, 548 [hijack episode, as infra]; 611 [cited with Henry Green as ‘two remarkable examples’ of English writers responding to the ‘power’ of the big house tradition in fiction]; 1383 [ded. of Derek Mahon’s poem “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford”; no ftn. supplied].

University of Ulster Library holds E. Dermott, ‘Study of the Big House Novel’ Dissertation on Molly Keane, Elizabeth Bowen, J. G. Farrell, and Jennifer Johnson.

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Notes
Troubles (1970) tells the comic yet melancholic tale of an English Major, Brendan Archer, who in 1919 goes to County Wicklow in Ireland to meet the woman whom he believes he may be engaged to marry. From the viewpoint of the crumbling Majestic Hotel at Kilnalough he watches Ireland's fight for independence. The novel, a masterpiece of nuanced understatement and baroque incident, provided inspiration for Derek Mahon's poem “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford”. In 2010 it was shortlisted for the Lost Booker Prize.

Siege of Krishnapur: In The Siege of Krishnapur it is the electroplated heads of the great thinkers of Europe in the Residency that make the best missiles when ordinary shot runs out for the British cannons. For an account of the mutiny, see Michael Joyce, Ordeal at Lucknow: The Defence of the Residency (London: J. Murray [1938]), ix, 396pp. [maps, plan.] 21 cm.

Hijacked: An account of the hijacking of cars in Troubles originates in an incident independently described by Hubert Butler in Escape from the Anthill (1985), Chap. 9 - and expressly identified with Farrell’s novel by Butler (see Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology, 1991, Vol. 3, p.548.) Note also that the architecture of the Majestic Hotel was inspired by a house that Farrell actually visited on Block Island, New Hampshire.

Disaster: ‘On August 10th [Farrell] wrote to his publisher, saying he hoped to deliver his new novel, The Hill Station, by the end of the year, “barring some unforeseen disaster”.’ (See notice of The Last 149 Days of J. G. Farrell, a message sent to the Diaspora E-List by Mike Collins of Cork UP, 13.12.2010.)

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