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O'Brien, Flann

irish joyce written dublin

(Irish, 1911–66)

‘Flann O'Brien’ was one of several pseudonyms adopted by Brian O’ Nolan while working as a senior civil servant in Dublin; as Myles na Gopaleen he contributed a long-running humorous column to the Irish Times. At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) was recognized as a modern classic only on its reissue in 1960, belatedly hailed for its comic boldness and sophisticated blend of fantasy, parody, and Irish myth. Influenced by Sterne and Joyce, it is a comic anti-novel that plays with novelistic conventions; the author Dermot Trellis is put on trial by his characters, Irish folklore is sent-up, and student life in contemporary Dublin provides a framework for the whole extravaganza. The Third Policeman (1967), written in 1940, took even longer to find an audience but is O'Brien's masterpiece. Again, the book operates on several levels. Events surrounding the murder of a farmer by the narrator and his accomplice become part of a circular plot involving a comically ominous vision of damnation and eternity; the narrative is accompanied by hilarious mock-scholarship in the form of notes on the eccentric philosophy of De Selby. O'Brien's other significant work, The Poor Mouth (1941), was written in Gaelic and is a satire on ‘Oirishry’ in the far west of Ireland, full of comedy about poverty, rain, and potatoes. In The Dalkey Archive (1964) James Joyce is discovered working as a barman and joining the Jesuits.

James Joyce, J. P. Donleavy, Spike Milligan. See HUMOUR, IRELAND, MAGIC REALISM  JS

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