J. G. Farrell
|J. G. Farrell|
|Born||James Gordon Farrell
25 January 1935
Liverpool, United Kingdom
|Died||11 August 1979
Bantry Bay, County Cork, Ireland
|Resting place||St. James's Church of Ireland, Durrus|
|Alma mater||Brasenose College, Oxford|
|Notable works||Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur|
|Notable awards||Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize; Booker Prize (twice)|
James Gordon Farrell (25 January 1935 – 11 August 1979) was a Liverpool-born novelist of Irish descent. He gained prominence for a series of novels known as the Empire Trilogy (Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip), which deal with the political and human consequences of British colonial rule.
Farrell's career abruptly ended when he drowned in Ireland at the age of 44, swept to his death in a storm. "Had he not sadly died so young,” Salman Rushdie said in 2008, "there is no question that he would today be one of the really major novelists of the English language. The three novels that he did leave are all in their different way extraordinary."
Troubles received the 1971 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and The Siege of Krishnapur received the 1973 Booker Prize. In 2010 Troubles was retrospectively awarded the Lost Man Booker Prize, created to recognise works published in 1970. Troubles and its fellow shortlisted works had not been open for consideration that year due to a change in the eligibility rules.
Early life and education
Farrell, born in Liverpool into a family of Anglo-Irish background, was the second of three brothers. His father, William Farrell, had worked as an accountant in Bengal and in 1929, he married Prudence Josephine Russell, who was a former receptionist and secretary to a doctor. From the age of 12 he attended Rossall public school in Lancashire. After World War II, the Farrells moved to Dublin, and from this point on Farrell spent much time in Ireland: this, perhaps combined with the popularity of Troubles, leads many to treat him as an Irish writer. After leaving Rossall, he taught in Dublin and also worked for some time on Distant Early Warning Line in the Canadian Arctic. In 1956, he went to study at Brasenose College, Oxford; while there he contracted polio. This would leave him partially crippled and disease would be prominent in his works. In 1960 he left Oxford with Third-class honours French and Spanish and went to live in France, where he taught at a lycée.
Farrell published his first novel, A Man From Elsewhere, in 1963. Set in France, it shows the clear influence of French existentialism. The story follows Sayer, who is a journalist for a communist paper, as he tries to find skeletons in Regan's closet. Regan is a dying novelist who is about to be awarded an important Catholic literary prize. The book mimics the fight between the two leaders of French existentialism: Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (Sayer representing Sartre and Regan representing Camus). The two argue about existentialism: the position that murder can be vindicated as an expedient in overthrowing tyranny (Sartre) versus the stance that there are no ends that justify unjust means (Camus). Bernard Bergonzi reviewed it in the New Statesman in the 20 September 1963 issue and said, "Many first novels are excessively autobiographical, but A Man from Elsewhere suffers from the opposite fault of being a cerebral construct, dreamed up out of literature and the contemporary French cinema." Simon Raven wrote in The Observer on 15 September 1963 that "Mr. Farrell's style is spare, his plotting lucid and well timed; his expositions of moral or political problems are pungent if occasionally didactic." It entirely lacks the ironic humour and the tender appreciation of human frailty which characterise his later work. Farrell himself came to dislike the book.
Two years after this came The Lung, in which Farrell returned to his real-life trauma of less than a decade earlier: the main character Martin Sands contracts polio and has to spend a long period in hospital. It has been noted that it is somewhat modelled after Farrell, but it is modelled more after Geoffrey Firmin from Malcolm Lowry 1947 novel, Under the Volcano. The anonymous reviewer for The Observer on 31 October 1965, wrote that "Mr. Farrell gives the pleasantly solid impression of really having something to write about" and one for The Times Literary Supplement on 11 November 1965 that "Mr. Farrell's is an effective, potent brew, compounded of desperation and a certain wild hilarity."
In 1967, he published A Girl in the Head. The protagonist, the impoverished Polish count Boris Slattery, lives in the fictional English seaside town of Maidenhair Bay, in the house of the Dongeon family (which is believed to be modelled after V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas). His marriage to Flower Dongeon is decaying. His companion is Dr. Cohen, who is a dying alcoholic. Boris also has sex with an underaged teenager, June Furlough. He also fantasizes about Ines, a Swedish summer guest, who is the "girl in the head". Boris is believed to be modelled after Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Like its two predecessors, the book met only middling critical and public reaction. In the 13 July 1967 issue of The Listener, Ian Hamilton wrote that he disliked the novel, and thought it was, at best, an "adroit pastiche" of Samuel Beckett's deadbeats. Martin Levin wrote in The New York Times Book Review on 23 March 1969, that he praised the author's "flair for giving the ridiculous an inspired originality". In an anonymous review in The New York Times Book Review on 20 July 1967, the writer stated that the "verbal assurance and resourcefulness show that Mr. Farrell is not content to coast along merely imitating his previous work. Such a deliberate extension of range is perhaps a hopeful sign for a talent which, after three novels, still has not found the mode in which to fulfil its attractive promise."
Troubles tells the comic yet melancholy tale of an English Major, Brendan Archer, who in 1919 goes to County Wexford in Ireland to meet the woman he believes he may be engaged to marry. From the crumbling Majestic Hotel at Kilnalough, he watches Ireland's fight for independence from Britain. Farrell started writing this book while on a Harkness Fellowship in the United States and finished it in a tiny flat in Knightsbridge, London. He got the idea for the setting from going to Block Island and seeing the remains of an old burned-down hotel. He won a Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for the novel, and with the prize money travelled to India to research his next novel.
Farrell's next book The Siege of Krishnapur and his last completed work The Singapore Grip both continue his story of the collapse of British colonial power. The former deals with the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Inspired by historical events such as the sieges of Cawnpore and Lucknow, the novel is set in the fictional town of Krishnapur, where a besieged British garrison succeeds in holding out for four months against an army of native sepoys, in the face of enormous suffering, before being relieved.
The third of the novels, The Singapore Grip, centres upon the Japanese capture of the British colonial city of Singapore in 1942, while also exploring at some length the economics and ethics of colonialism at the time, as well as the economic relationship between developed and Third World countries at the time that Farrell was writing.
The three novels are in general linked only thematically, although Archer, a character in Troubles, reappears in The Singapore Grip. The protagonist of Farrell's unfinished novel, The Hill Station, is Dr McNab, introduced in The Siege of Krishnapur; this novel and its accompanying notes make the series a quartet.
When The Siege of Krishnapur won the Booker Prize in 1973, Farrell used his acceptance speech to attack the sponsors, the Booker Group, for their business involvement in the agricultural sector in the Third World. In this vein, some readers have found Farrell's critique of colonialism and capitalism in his subsequent novel The Singapore Grip to be heavy-handed, although those new to the book after the crash of 2008 might not find it so.
In 1979, Farrell decided to quit London to take up residence on the Sheep's Head peninsula in southwestern Ireland. A few months later he was found drowned on the coast of Bantry Bay, after falling in from rocks while angling. He was 44.
He is buried in the cemetery of St. James's Church of Ireland in Durrus. The manuscript library at Trinity College, Dublin holds his papers: Papers of James Gordon Farrell (1935–1979). TCD MSS 9128-60.
Peter Morey wrote that "an interpretation of the novels of J. G. Farrell and Paul Scott as examples of post-colonial fiction [is possible], since both partake of oppositional and interrogative narrative practices which recognize and work to dismantle the staple elements of imperial narrative."
In the 1984 novel Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie, Vinnie Miner, the protagonist, reads a Farrell novel on her flight from New York to London. In the 1991 novel The Gates of Ivory by Margaret Drabble, the writer Stephen Cox is modelled on Farrell.
List of works
- Early works
- A Man from Elsewhere (1963)
- The Lung (1965)
- A Girl in the Head (1967)
- Empire Trilogy
- Published posthumously
- 1973–74: The Pussycat Who Fell in Love with a Suitcase. Atlantis. 6 (Winter 1973/4), pp. 6–10
- 1981: The Hill Station; and An Indian Diary, unfinished, edited by John Spurling. London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-77922-2
- 1971: Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize (Troubles)
- 1973: Booker Prize (The Siege of Krishnapur)
- 2010: Lost Man Booker Prize (Troubles) awarded for the year 1970
- 1979 Bernard Bergonzi, The Contemporary English Novel
- 1981 John Spurling, Margaret Drabble, Malcolm Dean: Personal Memories of J. G. Farrell; The Hill Station
- 1986 Ronald Binns, J. G. Farrell. London and New York : Methuen. ISBN 0-416-40320-4
- 1997 Michael C. Prusse, "Tomorrow is Another Day": The Fictions of James Gordon Farrell. Tübingen and Basel: Francke. ISBN 3-7720-2434-3
- 1997 Derek Mahon, "The World of J. G. Farrell", (poem), October 1997
- 1999 Lavinia Greacen: J. G. Farrell: The Making of a Writer (full-length biography). London : Bloomsbury. ISBN 0-7475-4463-8
- 2000 Elisabeth Delattre: "Histoire et fiction dans Troubles de J.G.Farrell", Études Irlandaises, printemps 2000, n° 25-1, pp. 65–80
- 2002 Elisabeth Delattre: "Du Monde romanesque au poème : 'The World of J. G. Farrell' de Derek Mahon ", Études Irlandaises, printemps 2002, n° 27-1, pp. 93–105
- 2003 Elisabeth Delattre: "Intégrer, exclure ou la genèse d'une œuvre : Troubles de J. G. Farrell", in Irlande : Inclusion, exclusion, publié sous la direction de Françoise Canon-Roger, Presses Universitaires de Reims, 2003, pp. 65–80.
- 2003 Michael C. Prusse "British and Irish Novelists Since 1960". Gale : Detroit. ISBN 978-0-7876-6015-4
- 2007 John McLeod, J. G. Farrell, Tavistock: Northcote House, 2007. ISBN 0-7463-0986-4
- 2009 Lavinia Greacen: J. G. Farrell in His Own Words Selected Letters and Diaries. Cork : Cork University Press. ISBN 978-1-85918-428-8
- Greacen, Lavinia (ed.). "JG Farrell in His Own Words: Selected Letters and Diaries". Cork University Press.
- Prusse, Michael C. (2003). British and Irish Novelists Since 1960. Detroit, Michigan: Gale. ISBN 978-0-7876-6015-4.
- Lavinia Greacen (1999). J.G. Farrell: The Making of a Writer., pages 222–225. London: Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 0-7475-4463-8 / 0-7475-4463-8
- A Different Stripe: The Best of the Booker: The Siege of Krishnapur
- Troubles (1988) (TV)
- "Cork University Press Eyewitness of Farrell Death". Retrieved 4 October 2013.
- Caroline Walsh, "Loose Leaves", Irish Times, 11 December 2010
- J.G. Farrell London and New York Methuen ISBN 0-416-40320-4
- The Observer Magazine 24 September 1978 ISSN 0029-7712