Lancelot L. Farrar Jr. (1932-2010)
John R. Gillis and James J. Sheehan, April 2011
Independent scholar of Germany before and during World War I
Lancelot L. Farrar Jr. died on May 16, 2010, from the Parkinson’s disease with which he had lived, gracefully and courageously, for more than a decade.
Lance Farrar was born in New York in 1932, and graduated from Great Neck High School before going to Princeton where he was member of the class of 1954. Military service in Stuttgart enkindled his lifelong fascination with German history, language, and culture. In 1957, he began his graduate work at Oxford, finishing a thesis on German foreign policy under James Joll. At Oxford, he met his future wife, Marjorie Milbank, who would become a distinguished historian of modern France.
After Oxford, Farrar taught at Stanford, where he was the assistant director of the Western civilization program, and at the University of Washington. In the 1970s, the Farrars moved to Boston. Eventually they both became independent scholars, living without the support of a university but still deeply engaged in research and writing and active in organizations like the Society for French Historical Studies. Although for much of his career, Lance Farrar did not have a permanent position, he was an enthusiastic and gifted teacher, who left scores of admiring students at Stanford, Washington, and later at Trinity, Brown, and Boston University where he held visiting appointments.
Following the intense debates sparked by Fritz Fischer’s work on German war aims, Farrar’s scholarship focused on the origins and significance of the Great War. His first book, Divide and Conquer: German Efforts to Conclude a Separate Peace (Columbia University Press, 1978), reasserts the importance of foreign policy and the international system in contrast to the Fischerite’s emphasis on the influence of domestic politics. Arrogance and Anxiety: The Ambivalence of German Power, 1848–1914 (University of Iowa Press, 1981) carefully examines the decisions of German statesmen, but once again the key to Farrar’s interpretation is the international system, which shapes men’s choices and limits their possibilities. In addition to these two books, Farrar wrote a series of stimulating essays on the origins of war and the problem of nationalism. But it was his memoir, An Apartment in Paris (Xlibris, 2003), in which we most clearly hear the engaging, charming, and witty narrative voice that was distinctly his.
Lance Farrar had an extraordinary talent for friendship, expressed over and over again in the joy he derived from the company of others, the interest he displayed in everything they did, and the pride he took in their accomplishments. While by no means self effacing, he always deflected attention from himself to those around him. In his last months, as the ravages of his disease intensified, these qualities of mind and spirit were dimmed, but never extinguished.
Marjorie Milbank Farrar died in 2000. Lance is survived by their two daughters, Shepi and Olivia; two granddaughters, Ariel and Maia; and an international network of admirers, who will always miss the pleasure of his company and be forever grateful for the gift of his friendship.
—John R. Gillis
—James J. Sheehan