The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp

by John Irving


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The World According to Garp by John Irving

Journey through generations and across two continents with the astonishing family of T. S. Garp, bastard son of a belligerent mother. Garp loves, lusts, labors and triumphs in a world of assassins, wrestlers, feminist fanatics, tantalizing teen-age babysitters, adoring children and a wayward wife.

His life is comic, tragic, violent and tender, his world outrageous. And it is as real as our own.

"Like all great works of art, Irving's novel seems always to have been there, a diamond sleeping in the dark, chipped out at last for our enrichment and delight." (Cosmopolitan)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345418012
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/1997
Series: Reader's Circle Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 224,916
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.98(h) x 1.13(d)

About the Author

John Irving, born in Exeter, New Hampshire, published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, when he was twenty-six. His most popular novel world-wide is A Prayer for Owen Meany, published in 1989. In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won the Lambda Literary Award for Bisexual Fiction for In One Person. In 2018, he was the recipient of a Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Richard C. Holbrooke Award for Distinguished Achievement. Mr. Irving competed as a wrestler for twenty years and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven. He is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. John Irving lives in Toronto.



Date of Birth:

March 2, 1942

Place of Birth:

Exeter, New Hampshire


B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Boston Mercy

Garp's mother, Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theater. This was shortly after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and people were being tolerant of soldiers, because suddenly everyone was a soldier, but Jenny Fields was quite firm in her intolerance of the behavior of men in general and soldiers in particular. In the movie theater she had to move three times, but each time the soldier moved closer to her until she was sitting against the musty wall, her view of the newsreel almost blocked by some silly colonnade, and she resolved she would not get up and move again. The soldier moved once more and sat beside her.

Jenny was twenty-two. She had dropped out of college almost as soon as she'd begun, but she had finished her nursing-school program at the head of her class and se enjoyed being a nurse. She was an athletic-looking young woman who always had high color in her cheeks; she had dark, glossy hair and what her mother called a mannish way of walking (she swung her arms), and her rump and hips were so slender and hard that, from behind, she resembled a young boy. In Jenny's opinion, her breasts were too large; she thought the ostentation of her bust made her look "cheap and easy."

She was nothing of the kind. In fact, she had dropped out of college when she suspected that the chief purpose of her parents' sending her to Wellesley had been to have her dated by and eventually mated to some well-bred man. The recommendation of Wellesley had come from her older brothers, who had assured her parents that Wellesley women were not thought of loosely and were considered high in marriage potential. Jenny felt that her education was merely a polite was to bide time, as if she were really a cow, being prepared only for the insertion of the device for artificial insemination.

Her declared major had been English literature, but when it seemed to her that her classmates were chiefly concerned with acquiring the sophistication and poise to deal with men, she had no trouble leaving literature for nursing. She saw nursing as something that could be put into immediate practice, and its study had no ulterior motive that Jenny could see (later she wrote, in her famous autobiography, that too many nurses put themselves on display for too many doctors; but then her nursing days were over).

She liked the simple, no-nonsense uniform; the blouse of the dress made less of her breasts; the shoes were comfortable, and suited to her fast pace of walking. When she was at the night desk, she could still read. She did not miss the young college men, who were sulky and disappointed if you wouldn't compromise yourself, and superior and aloof it you would. At the hospital she saw more soldiers and working boys than college men, and they were franker and less pretentious in their expectations; if you compromised yourself a little, they seemed at least grateful to see you again. Then, suddenly, everyone was a soldier—and full of the self-importance of college boys—and Jenny Fields stopped having anything to do with men.

"My mother," Garp wrote, "was a lone wolf."

—There was a popular joke among the nurses in Boston at that time, but it was not funny to Jenny Fields. The joke involved the other hospitals in Boston. The hospital Jenny worked in was Boston Mercy Hospital, which was called Boston Mercy; there was also Massachusetts General Hospital, which was called Mass General. And another hospital was the Peter Bent Brigham, which was called the Peter Bent.

One day, the joke goes, a Boston cab driver had his taxi hailed by a man who staggered off the curb toward him, almost dropping to his knees in the street. The man was purple in the face with pain; he was either strangling or holding his breath, so that talking was difficult for him, and the cabby opened the door and helped him inside, where the man lay face down on the floor alongside the back seat, tucking his knees up to his chest.

"Hospital! Hospital!" he cried.

"The Peter Bent?" the cabby asked. That was the closest hospital.

"It's worse than bent," the man moaned. "I think Molly bit it off!"

Few jokes were funny to Jenny Fields, and certainly not this one; no peter jokes for Jenny, who was staying clear of the issue. She had seen the trouble peters could get into; babies were not the worst of it. Of course she saw people who didn't want to have babies, and they were sad that they were pregnant; they shouldn't have to have babies, Jenny thought—though she mainly felt sorry for the babies who were born. She saw people who wanted to have babies, too, and they made her want to have one. One day, Jenny Fields though, she would like to have a baby—just one. But the trouble was that she wanted as little to do with a peter as possible, and nothing whatsoever to do with a man.

Most peter treatment Jenny saw was done to soldiers. The U.S. Army would not begin to benefit from the discovery of penicillin until 1943, and there were many soldiers who didn't get penicillin until 1945. At Boston Mercy, in the early days of 1942, peters were usually treated with sulfa and arsenic. Sulfathiazole was for the clap—with lots of water recommended. For syphilis, in the days before penicillin, they used neoarsphenamine; Jenny Fields thought that this was the epitome of all that sex could lead to—to introduce arsenic into the human chemistry, to try to clean the chemistry up.

The other peter treatment was local and also required a lot of fluid. Jenny frequently assisted with this method of disinfecting, because the patient required lots of attention at the time; sometimes, in fact, he needed to be held. It was a simple procedure that could force as much as one hundred cc's of fluid up the penis and through the surprised urethra before it all came back, but the procedure left everyone feeling a bit raw. The man who invented a device for this method of treatment was named Valentine, and his device was called the Valentine irrigator. Long after Dr. Valentine's irrigator was improved, or replaced with another irrigation device, the nurses at Boston Mercy still referred to the procedure as the Valentine treatment—an appropriate punishment for a lover, thought Jenny Fields.

"My mother," Garp wrote, "was not romantically inclined."

When the soldier in the movie theater first started changing seats—when he made his first move on her-Jenny Fields felt that the Valentine treatment would be just the thing for him. But she didn't have an irrigator with her; it was much too large for her purse. It also required the considerable cooperation of the patient. What she did have with her was a scalpel; she carried it with her all the time. She had not stolen it from surgery, either; it was a castaway scalpel with a deep nick taken out of the point (it had probably been dropped on the floor, or in a sink)—it was no good for fine work, but it was not for fine work that Jenny wanted it.

At first it had slashed up the little silk pockets of her purse. Then she found part of an old thermometer container that slipped over the head of the scalpel, capping it like a fountain pen. It was this cap she removed when the soldier moved into the seat beside her and stretched his arm along the armrest they were (absurdly) meant to share. His long hand dangled off the end of the armrest; it twitched like the flank of a horse shuddering flies away. Jenny kept her hand on the scalpel inside her purse; with her other hand, she held the purse tightly in her white lap. She was imagining that her nurse's uniform shone like a holy shield, and for some perverse reason this vermin beside her had been attracted by her light.

"My mother," Garp wrote, "went through her life on the lookout for purse-snatchers and snatch-snatchers."

In the theater, it was not her purse that the soldier wanted. He touched her knee. Jenny spoke up fairly clearly. "Get your stinking hand off me," she said. Several people turned around.

"Oh, come on," the soldier moaned, and his hand shot quickly under her uniform; he found her thighs locked tightly together—he found his whole arm, from his shoulder to his wrist, suddenly sliced open like a soft melon. Jenny had cut cleanly through his insignia and his shirt, cleanly through his skin and muscles, baring his bones at the joint of his elbow. ("If I'd wanted to kill him," she told the police, later, "I'd have slit his wrist. I'm a nurse. I know how people bleed.")

The soldier screamed. On his feet and falling back, he swiped at Jenny's head with his uncut arm, boxing her ear so sharply that her head sang. She pawed at him with the scalpel, removing a piece of his upper lip the approximate shape and thinness of a thumbnail. (I was not trying to slash his throat," she told the police, later. "I was trying to cut his nose off but I missed.")

Crying, on all fours, the soldier groped his way to the theater aisle and headed toward the safety of the light in the lobby. Someone else in the theater was whimpering, in fright.

Jenny wiped her scalpel on the movie seat, returned it to her purse, and covered the blade with the thermometer cap. Then she went to the lobby, where keen wailings could be heard and the manager was calling through the lobby doors over the dark audience, "Is there a doctor here? Please! Is someone a doctor?"

Someone was a nurse, and she went to lend what assistance she could. When the soldier saw her, he fainted; it was not really from loss of blood. Jenny knew how facial wounds bled; they were deceptive. The deeper gash on his arm was of course in need of immediate attention, but the soldier was not bleeding to death. No one but Jenny seemed to know that—there was so much blood, and so much of it was on her white nurse's uniform. They quickly realized she had done it. The theater lackeys would not let her touch the fainted soldier, and someone took her purse from her. The mad nurse! The crazed slasher! Jenny Fields was calm. She thought it was only a matter of waiting for the true authorities to comprehend the situation. But the police were not very nice to her, either.

What People are Saying About This

Abraham Verghese

"A grand comic novel, in the best tradition of the comic novelists like Charles Dickens and Gunter Grass."--Abraham Verghese

From the Publisher

“The most powerful and profound novel about women written by a man in our generation . . . Like all extraordinary books, Garp defies synopsis. . . . A marvelous, important, permanent novel by a serious artist of remarkable powers.”—Chicago Sun-Times

“Nothing in contemporary fiction matches it. . . . Irving’s blend of gravity and play is unique, audacious, almost blasphemous. . . . Brilliant, funny, and consistently wise; a work of vast talent.”—The New Republic

“A wonderful novel, full of energy and art, at once funny and horrifying and heartbreaking.”—Washington Post

Robertson Davies

There is something of Byron about John Irving. Not only is it that he woke after the publication of The World According to Garp to find himself famous, but the extremity of his opinions and the nervous violence of his language recall that intemperate nobleman, and, like Byron, he would certainly say that love is no sinecure. Indeed, nothing in life is easy for Irving's characters, and in his novels the still, sad music of humanity rises to the orgasmic uproar of a rock band.

Reading Group Guide

1. In the preceding essay, John Irving writes about his frustration in trying to determine what The World According to Garp is about. He finally accepts his young son's conclusion: "The fear of death or the death of children—or of anyone you love." In your opinion, is this the most overt theme of the novel?

2. Feminism comes in many flavors in the novel. The most obvious, perhaps, are Jenny Field's straightforward brand of feminism, Ellen Jamesian's embittered, victimized type, and Roberta Muldoon's nurturing, female-embracing style. But are there other characters who portray less distinct, murkier shades of feminism? What is feminism in the lives of Helen Holm, Charlotte the prostitute, Mrs. Ralph, and other women in the novel? And what does feminism mean to Garp?

3. How does The World According to Garp ultimately assess the prospects of understanding between the sexes? Support your opinion with examples from the novel.

4. In the novel, we read about a variety of biographers' theories on why Garp stopped writing—and what motivated him to write again—albeit for a very short-lived time. Helen agreed that Garp's collision with his own mortality brought him back to his craft. If you were the biographer of T. S. Garp, what would your theory be?

5. Garp's vehemence against "political true believers" is a major force of the novel and he maintains that they are the sworn enemy of the artist. The Ellen Jamesians are a farcical portrayal of this notion. In your opinion, what is the relationship between art and politics—and is it possible for them to successfully coexist?

6. After the terrible accident in which Duncan is maimed, many pages pass before Walt's death is acknowledged to the reader. And then, it is given a tragic-comedic twist; Garp announces in an Alice Fletcher-like lisp that he "mish him." What was the effect of this narrative device on you? Was the sorrow intensified or assuaged?

7. The narrator's voice is ironically detached and almost flippant—even when delivering the most emotionally charged, heartbreaking moments in the novel. In what ways does the narrator contrast and play against the novel's dramatic elements? How is it similar—and different—from the voice of Garp?

8. People who have read and loved The World According to Garp consistently comment on the extraordinary ability of the novel to provoke laughter and tears simultaneously. Was this your experience as well? If so, how do you think this effect is achieved?

9. What is the significance of the meta-fiction—the stories within the story? How does Garp's "writing" voice compare to our perception of him as a character?

10. Over the last fifteen years The World According to Garp has entered the canon of literature. How do you think it is perceived now in comparison to when it was first published in the late '70s? Is the American moral center much different today than it was then? For example, despite Garp's and Helen's indiscretions, their relationship is still portrayed as loving and supportive. Do you think that today's social climate is as accepting of these kind of transgressions?

11. In his afterword, John Irving admits to having been "positively ashamed of how much lust was in the book. Indeed, every character in the story who indulges his or her lust is severely punished." How do you feel about that condemnation? Is the world an arguably more precarious place because of lust?

12. What do the peripheral characters contribute to the novel? Is there a common thread they share . . . Mrs. Ralph, the young hippie, Dean Bodger, Ernie Holm, "Old Tinch," the Fletchers?

13. The World According to Garp has been heralded as a literary masterpiece while at the same time enjoying phenomenal commercial success—a rare feat for a novel. What are the elements of high literary merit in the novel? Likewise, what aspects of the book land it squarely into the mainstream consciousness? In your opinion, how is this balance achieved?

14. Have you read any other John Irving novels? If so, did you find any similarities between them in style or tone?

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The World According to Garp 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 107 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was my first John Irving book. When I first started, the book seemed a bit crowded with detail that seemed to slow the story down, but the style of the writing was not what made me a fan of the book. It was the characters that sold me. To me, the story was about how people define themselves. What events make us who we are, and how the goals we set for ourselves help shape what we become. Garp is a writer who is always striving to create his greatest work. Ironically, the story that gains the most notoriety is the one written when he was at his most innocent in life, his first. Life can hinder the imagination because we relate life experience to our storytelling. It fashions how we see and interpret things. Admittedly, some of these characters are extremes, but you have to appreciate the irony and humor of Jenny, a woman whose misinterpreted independence turns her into a pivotal player in the feminist movement. Each character is defined by the choices they make, the paths they lead. Although it is not the most upbeat ending I've ever read, the power of the book shows how different events have such dramatically different consequences on each person. The roles of sexuality, greatness and political correctness, family, and marriage are all explored in very real and graphic ways. By following each character to their end (literally) you can appreciate how the cycle of life continues and how each character left their mark on those around them. By the end of the book, you can't help but feel sorry to see this eccentric cast of characters go. A good read.
Booklover87 More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this novel and it has become one of my favorites. John Irving is such a fantastic writer. T.S. Garp and Jenny Fields are two of the greatest characters ever written and the story is original, funny, heartbreaking, sad and, at times, horrible. I enjoyed every word. I highly recommend this to anyone who loves novels because this is a novel written for the reader.
ds1017 More than 1 year ago
I've been a fan of John Irving since I read "A Widow for One Year" several years back. I decided to visit this story as it was his most famous and I recalled it being studied in my high school, although I was not in that class. If I had to choose I would say it is the best book I've ever read. The themes of life, death, gender identity, sexism, sexuality, human neuroses, marriage and family are so deftly woven into the perfect "dramady" of a story, I cannot imagine any other book coming close. That you can simultaneously identify with every single character at some point in the book (even if you previously hated them, and vice versa) is only testament to the most overriding theme of all- the world and the characters in it are ever-changing with our ever-changing perspective. As Garp's world view evolves we see that what was once ridiculous is now wholly understandable, what was once noble and beautiful, is now a silly outdated sentiment. Death is the ultimate equalizer, and hence the main theme. If we are all terminal cases, we have far more in common than we realize.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never in my life have I read a book like The World According to Garp, though luckily that¿s a good thing. John Irving really delivers in this book, even if its not heart stopping on the edge of your seat reading material, but it is a clever and accurate take on life through fictional characters 'although I wouldn't be surprised if they weren't, from the way Irving so deeply develops them it is hard to tell'. The main bulk of The World According to Garp is about Garp from the fetus to his death bed with chapters or sections here and there about his mother or one of their stories. The book begins with Garp¿s mother being arrested for cutting a soldier in a movie theater and unfortunately that¿s as interesting as the beginning with Garp¿s mother gets. Garp¿s mother is a very unemotional piece of work before she has Garp and she tend to not understand many children can understand due to her sheltered and loveless life and yet she¿s not unhappy about it. To me the book drags on and is a little awkward in places until Garp¿s birth, but its well worth it to read through it. Once Garp is born you really receive the full potential of Irving¿s writing because after he¿s born Irving portrays every emotion through the book phenomenally well and you really feel each and every emotion like its your own. Another thing I really loved about The World According to Garp was the book¿s tone. The books satirical and a little sarcastic tone really put this book on another level for me. I had never before laughed when reading a book until now, even in books that have tried to be funny I had never laughed, but The World According to Garp just communicated to me on such a level that I really laughed for the right reasons on many, many parts of the book. Overall, I really recommend this book because its pros well outweigh its cons, its clever, its funny, and it¿s an all around a good book. Although it will not be a suitable book for some ages due to its very mature content throughout parts of the book, in the form of curse words, sex scenes, and other R rated debauchery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Almost Dickensian in its breadth and scope, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP is likely to rank among American literature's classics of the 1970s. Through the characters of Garp, his family and the eccentrics they encounter, Irving makes readers laugh and cry at the beauty and pathos of human existence. Save your copy. You'll want to read it again someday.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has EVERYTHING. You'll laugh, you'll ache, you'll feel moved.. read it!! NOTHING is forced, the characters are SO REAL, it's surprisingly witty, sad, just EVERYTHING. It's genius.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read quite a bit of fiction and I really like Irving's style. He is a very honest author, telling you the truth of what it would be like to be in the character's shoes. I think that the graphic sections of the book were not too much, but came very close to the edge - which I liked. I need to be shocked and this book did it while keeping the characters real. My only complaint: it moved a little slow.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book, and I was shocked to see that it only had a four star rating. So I read all the reviews, and I found that people that didn't like were offend by the sexual content. Guess what people, sex is a big part of life!!!!! Especially for happily married people. Sex is not offensive, it just is. Get real people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I wasn't too enthusiastic after the first 4 chapters. Then I thought Garp and his mother would be trapped forever in Vienna, and nothing too special would ever occur in their lives. And all of a sudden, I could not let it out of my hands. It's pulsating with life, with the real life most of us experience every day. At the same time, it makes you think whether you want to be Garp, to be able to feel like Garp...I am not sure I have fully understood him, a re-reading of the book is definitely imposed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely amazing! I couldn't put it down!
otman on LibraryThing 1 days ago
At the time I read this, I annointed it my all-time favorite book. After more than 25 years, would I still feel that way? I don't know. I have never been one for "rereading," so I think I will just cherish my memories.
CarlaR on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I read this book many years ago, watched the movie, and then read the book again. Irving is a wonderful writer and this book filled my head with tons of images that will never leave me. I will continue to read Irving forever.
wordygirl39 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I remember reading this the first time in 6th grade with my friend Missy McCandless--for the "dirty parts." I didn't learn to appreciate Irving until college, years later, but when I did, this was "one of those books" that changed my world and made me want to write, to live. Garp has one of the finest beginnings to a novel that have ever existed, in my view.
rcooper3589 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
the first book i read by irving and i'm so happy i picked it up! i absolutly love this story!!
libraslibros on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I loved this years ago in college, but recently couldn't get into it. I remember that Jenny Garth reeled me in from Chapter 1 at the time.
cinesnail88 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
This is the first work of Irving's that I have read, though I've been meaning to get around to The Cider House Rules for some time. This wonderful novel was made into a film with Robin Williams in it some time ago, but sadly, I don't think it was as well received as it should have been. Anyway, after seeing the movie, I looked into the book, and I absolutely loved it. The relationship between Garp and Helen made me truly feel - and though I knew already how things would end, it was still amazing.
Smiley on LibraryThing 8 days ago
Great novel until Irving seems to tire of the characters in the last fifth of the book and the story comes to an abrupt, unsatisfying end.
leapinglemur on LibraryThing 8 days ago
The imagery of Garp chasing down cars going too fast in his neighborhood, the undertoad, the accident with the gear shift will remain with me forever.
realsupergirl on LibraryThing 8 days ago
It's my experience that all John Irving novels are essentially the same. That being said, this one is pretty good. It's the one to read.
Tama2toe More than 1 year ago
This is definetly a wonderful book. There were some amazing parts that people today still talk about when you read it these parts are just WOW! Then the book is a roller coaster of slow situations and then it speeds back up with a WOW moments. This is worth the ride.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
katichelle More than 1 year ago
One of of my all-time favorites book written by one of my favorite authors! Irving really takes the time to develop his characters within the story. It is obvious that he is extremely meticulous in his method, and it shines brilliantly in "Garp." None of Irving's characters in this book are without flaws, and that is what makes them so relatable and believable. Irving's stories are truly about life: how we adapt to change, how we overcome adversity, and even how we fail to measure up to our own expectations. Read will fall in love...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mature adults only. Difficult to understand first few chapters but if you stick it out, you will love it! Very moving! The ending is unexpected and really good!
Mabel506 More than 1 year ago
I have never been disappointed when ordering from Barns & Noble.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The World According To Garp is the type of novel that you simply don't want to end, but can't turn the pages fast enough. Hilariously funny, brutally honest, and amazingly observant, John Irving is everything a reader could ask of an author and more. If you are looking for a good read and haven't yet checked out Garp, you must do so immediately.