The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp is John Irving's fourth novel, about a man, born out of wedlock to a feminist leader, who grows up to be a writer. Published in 1978, the book was a bestseller for several years. It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 1979,[1] and its first paperback edition won the Award the following year.[2][lower-alpha 1]

The World According to Garp
First edition
AuthorJohn Irving
CountryUnited States
PublisherE. P. Dutton
Publication date
LC ClassPZ4.I714 Wo 1978 PS3559.R8
Preceded byThe 158-Pound Marriage 
Followed byThe Hotel New Hampshire 

A movie adaptation of the novel starring Robin Williams was released in 1982, with a screenplay written by Steve Tesich.

BBC Radio 4's Classic Serial broadcast a three-part adaptation of the novel by Linda Marshall Griffiths in January 2014. The production was directed by Nadia Molinari and featured Miranda Richardson as Jenny, Lee Ingleby as Garp, Jonathan Keeble as Roberta and Lyndsey Marshal as Helen.[3]

On 3 November 2015, Irving revealed that he'd been approached by HBO and Warner Brothers to reconstruct The World According to Garp as a miniseries. He described the project as being in the early stages.[4]

According to the byline of a self-penned, 20 February 2017 essay for The Hollywood Reporter, Irving completed his teleplay for the five-part series based on The World According to Garp .

Plot synopsis

The novel is about the life of T. S. Garp. His mother, Jenny Fields, is a strong-willed nurse who wants a child but not a husband. She encounters a dying ball turret gunner known only as Technical Sergeant Garp, who was severely brain damaged in combat. Jenny nurses Garp, observing his infantile state and almost perpetual autonomic sexual arousal. As a matter of practicality and kindness in making his death as comfortable as possible and reducing his agitation, she masturbates him several times. Unconstrained by convention and driven by her desire for a child, Jenny rapes TSgt Garp, impregnates herself and names the resulting son "T. S." (a name derived from "Technical Sergeant", but consisting of just initials). Jenny raises young Garp alone, taking a position at the all-boys Steering School in New England.

Garp grows up, becoming interested in sex, wrestling, and writing fiction—three topics in which his mother has little interest. After his graduation in 1961, his mother takes him to Vienna, where he writes his first novella. At the same time, his mother begins writing her autobiography, A Sexual Suspect. After Jenny and Garp return to Steering, Garp marries Helen, the wrestling coach's daughter, and begins his family—he a struggling writer, she a teacher of English. The publication of A Sexual Suspect makes his mother famous. She becomes a feminist icon, because feminists view her book as a manifesto of a woman who does not care to bind herself to a man, and who chooses to raise a child on her own. She nurtures and supports women traumatized by men, among them the Ellen Jamesians, a group of women named after an eleven-year-old girl whose tongue was cut off by her rapists to silence her. The members of the group cut off their own tongues in solidarity with the girl (the girl herself opposes this tongue cutting).

Garp becomes a devoted parent, wrestling with anxiety for the safety of his children and a desire to keep them safe from the dangers of the world. He and his family inevitably experience dark and violent events through which the characters change and grow. Garp learns (often painfully) from the women in his life (including transgender ex-football player Roberta Muldoon), who are struggling to become more tolerant in the face of intolerance. The story contains a great deal of (in the words of Garp's fictional teacher) "lunacy and sorrow".

The novel contains several framed narratives: Garp's first piece of fiction, a short story entitled "The Pension Grillparzer"; "Vigilance", an essay; and the first chapter of his third novel, The World According to Bensenhaver. The book also contains some motifs that appear in some, but not all, John Irving novels: bears, New England, Vienna, hotels, wrestling, and a person who prefers abstinence over sex. And, like nearly all of Irving's novels, it features a complex Dickensian plot which spans the protagonist's whole life. Adultery (another common Irving motif) also plays a large part, culminating in one of the novel's most harrowing and memorable scenes.


John Irving's mother, Frances Winslow, had not been married at the time of his conception,[5] and Irving never met his biological father. As a child, he was not told anything about his father, and he baited his mother that unless she gave him some information about his biological father, in his writing he would invent the father and the circumstances of how she got pregnant. Winslow would reply, "Go ahead, dear."[6]

In 1981, Time magazine quoted the novelist's mother as saying, "There are parts of Garp that are too explicit for me."[7]


  1. Garp won the 1980 award for paperback general Fiction. From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Awards history there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories, and multiple fiction categories, especially in 1980. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints, including this one.


    1. "National Book Awards – 1979". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
    2. "National Book Awards – 1980". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-14.
      (With essays by Deb Caletti and Craig Nova from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
    3. "Episode 1: The World According to Garp". BBC Radio 4. 5 January 2014.
    4. Kevin Haynes (4 November 2015). "John Irving novel to become an HBO miniseries". Purple Clover. Retrieved 5 November 2015.
    5. Nicholas Wroe (13 August 2005). "Grappling with life". The Observer. Retrieved 5 November 2009. his parents had married six months before his birth
    6. Ariel Leve (18 October 2009). "The world according to John Irving". The Times. Retrieved 4 November 2009.
    7. R.Z. Sheppard (31 August 1981). "Life into Art: Novelist John Irving". Time. Retrieved 4 November 2009.
    Preceded by
    Going After Cacciato
    Tim O'Brien
    National Book Award for Fiction
    Sophie's Choice
    William Styron
    Succeeded by
    Plains Song: For Female Voices
    Wright Morris
    Succeeded by
    The Stories of John Cheever
    John Cheever
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