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Flann O'Brien, the principal pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan, otherwise Brain O'Nuallain Biography

(1911–66), the principal pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan, otherwise Brain O'Nuallain

Irish novelist and humorist, born at Strabane in Co. Tyrone; from the age of 13 he grew up in Dublin, where he was educated at Blackrock College and University College. In 1935 he entered the Department of Local Government in Dublin, where he remained until his retirement through ill-health in 1953. At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), his highly unusual first novel, was favourably received. He was deeply discouraged by his publishers' rejection of The Third Policeman (1967), the posthumously published novel which is widely regarded as his masterpiece. In consequence, he resorted to journalism as a channel; under the pseudonym ‘Myles na Gopaleen’, his ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’ column appeared in the Irish Times from 1940 until the year of his death. The articles, initially in Gaelic and subsequently in English, became celebrated for their wittily acerbic commentaries on Irish affairs in general and the cultural life of Dublin in particular; na Gopaleen's columns are collected as The Best of Myles (1968), Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn (1976), and The Hair of the Dogma (1977). He also wrote for a number of other Irish newspapers under a range of pseudonyms including ‘George Knowall’ and ‘Lir O'Connor’. In 1943 three of O'Brien's plays were produced in Dublin, two of which, Thirst and Faustus Kelly, are included in Stories and Plays (1973). An Beal Bocht (1941), a novel in Gaelic issued under the na Gopaleen pseudonym and translated by P. C. Power as The Poor Mouth (1974), is among the finest of his works; its assault on the Free State's institutionalized versions of Gaelic culture takes the form of a hyperbolically unrelenting portrayal of life in the far west of Ireland as a rain-sodden ordeal of privation. The acclaim which greeted At Swim-Two-Birds upon its reissue in 1960 had a stimulating effect on O'Brien, who had long felt disregarded as a novelist. The Hard Life (1961) conducts its ‘exegesis of squalor’ with characteristically mordant humour and bizarre narrative developments; although considered the weakest of his books, The Dalkey Archive (1964), in which James Joyce is found to be alive and working as a barman, is rich in fantastic strategies. His reputation as one of the most important Irish writers of fiction to succeed Joyce now seems assured. Of a number of books published on O'Brien the fullest and most authoritative is the biography No Laughing Matter (1989) by Anthony Cronin.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor