The Flann O’Brien Thread

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#1
Time for a Flann O’Brien Thread.

My hero: Flann O’Brien by John Banville

The author of the comic masterpiece At Swim-Two-Birds would have laughed at the notion of being anybody’s hero



Flann O’Brien in the 1950s Photograph: The Irish Times
Ireland loves, or pretends to love, its literary heroes, so much so that we put quotations from Ulysses on little brass plaques and nail them to the pavements for tourists and Dubliners alike to tread on, give to a gunboat the name of that most peace-loving Irishman, Samuel Beckett, while Oscar Wilde is represented by a hideous statue indecently asprawl on a rock behind railings opposite his birthplace. What the reaction would be of Flann O’Brien, Myles na Gopaleen, Cruiskeen Lawn (Irish for “the full glass”) or Brian O’Nolan – his real name, more or less – to the gushing lip-service we pay these days to our dead writers (he died 50 years ago on 1 April) can be easily guessed: a sardonic shrug, and a turning back to the bar to order another ball of malt.

He was a slightly late arrival among the generation that included James Joyce, Beckett, Frank O’Connor, Seán O’Faoláin, Patrick Kavanagh and, later again,Brendan Behan. Born into a somewhat peculiar nationalist family, his first language was Irish, although it was as a prose stylist in English that he wrought his finest achievements. Chief of these is the novel At Swim-Two-Birds, a comic masterpiece that he unluckily published on the eve of the second world war, and which only attained its true status after its author’s death.
O’Brien yearned for Europe, into which Joyce and Beckett had triumphantly flung themselves, but in his lifetime he made only one trip abroad, to Germany. He disdained the self-heroicising of the likes of Joyce, with his wish to “forge the uncreated conscience of my race”, and rejected the myth of the selfless artist wedded to his art. “But it could be argued,” his biographer Anthony Cronin writes, “that in [O’Brien’s] case, he was, in time, destroyed by its opposite, by a too ready acceptance of the necessity of emulating the life pattern of the majority who do not have a special vocation and are not burdened by the claims of art.”

O’Brien was a philistine as well as a consummate prose stylist, an artist who threw away his talent, a Catholic who allowed himself to drift into the sin of despair, and a great comic sensibility thwarted and shrivelled by emotional self-denial. He would have laughed at the notion of being anybody’s hero.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/01/my-hero-flann-o-brien-by-john-banville?CMP=share_btn_tw
 

skinny

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#3
Love his stream of consciousness approach. Doesn't come close to Joyce's mania, but it is at least more accessible.

Lot of time for O'Brien.
 

Frideswide

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#8
who is it skinny?
 
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#9
Offaly diabolical – An Irishman’s Diary about Flann O’Brien’s vision of hell

Ireland too, starting in 1920, when the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries patrolled the area, and ending in 1922 when O’Nolan’s father was transferred to the city, to become part of the new Free State’s excise operation.

Impression
But in the meantime, the flat countryside around Tullamore left a deep impression on the future writer’s mind. And when, 20 years later, he wrote an existentialist murder mystery called The Third Policemen, set mainly in a nether afterworld, he used Offaly as his model.
Or so at least says his biographer, Anthony Cronin, who suggests that the area’s very flatness and lack of relief gave the novel the “curiously threatening and disturbing quality” it needed.

That the scenery was also highly flammable (thanks to the many turf bogs) must have been a factor too. But then again, there is nothing as obvious as fire in The Third Policeman’s hell. On the contrary, the book’s events take place in a strange but handsome countryside where “everything seemed almost too pleasant, too perfect, too finely made”.

The narrator’s first journey, post-damnation, is along a road that he surmises must be one of the world’s oldest. His reasoning, like much of the book, is eccentric. But interestingly, it so happens that not far from Cappincur – near Edenderry – archaeologists once found a bog track dating from 2,000BC. ...

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/o...bout-flann-o-brien-s-vision-of-hell-1.2616442
 

OneWingedBird

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#10
give to a gunboat the name of that most peace-loving Irishman, Samuel Beckett
That's on a par with us having a pub in Bradford called the Titus Salt, Salt was a teetotaler.

Also it's a Wetherspoons, which they built into what was formerly the Windsor Baths gig venue, which New Model Army opened cira 90s.

Sorry to sidetrack your thread with that little titbit of info.
 
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#11
That's on a par with us having a pub in Bradford called the Titus Salt, Salt was a teetotaler.

Also it's a Wetherspoons, which they built into what was formerly the Windsor Baths gig venue, which New Model Army opened cira 90s.

Sorry to sidetrack your thread with that little titbit of info.
Beckett could become bellicose when necessary: he served with the French Resistance during WW2. He was awarded the Croix de guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance for his efforts.
 

JamesWhitehead

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#12
I picked up At-Swim-Two-Birds the other day and have made a start. All that Finn McCool stuff early on is a thicket! - to deter the easily-daunted? The downbeat world of the Dublin students is rather more grim than funny.

The complex games-playing of Trellis as author were beginning to kick in where I left it.

The style, so far, is monotonously rhetorical, despite the devious narrative. I'll see how it develops. :)

Edit 10th September.

I am half-way through and it's clear O'Brien is addicted to the notion that if an idea is protracted long enough it will become funny again. The contest of the poets, McCool's "classic" of the accursed King Sweeny* versus Shanahan's Jem Casey doggerel is extended over thirty pages!

*It has been remarked that O'Brien's surreal version of this myth sticks very close to the original. The Legend of King Sweeney - best known as an inspiration for T. S. Eliot.

For weirdness, the debate of the Pooka and the Good Fairy takes the biscuit, so far.

Maybe it's O'Brien's reputation as a comic writer that led me to expect something less heavy-going! :cooll:

Edit 11th September.

Well the invisible Good Fairy* and the Pooka have met up with the cowboys and next they encounter the working-man's poet, Jem Casey and Finn McCool, still harping on about the metamorphosed King Sweeny's life in the trees. They are now all on their way to a hooley and gathering all the fruits and berries of Ireland as an offering. It makes the Wizard of Oz seem like a tale of everyday folk! :rolleyes:

*Some of the scenes of the pocketed spirit seem to allude to Gef the Talking Mongoose and other poltergeist tales.

Edit 13th September
The entourage of strange characters have arrived at the house of the elder Trellis with a view to torturing their creator. His excruciating agonies are extended by several recapitulations, when they decide the pains should be even worse. Eventually, it appears the doomed writer is to undergo a fate remarkably similar to King Sweeny . . .
The home stretch will be completed tonight.

Edit 16th September
I reached the end last night, a little later than anticipated. The torture of the elder Trellis leads into the climactic showpiece, an elaborate trial sequence. It is, as we might expect, an unusual one in which the judges, jury and witnesses are the same cast of characters we have followed throughout. It takes place in an old theatre or cinema, accompanied by an orchestra, while the judges drink tall glasses of porter. A cow is called as a surprise witness but the whole show-trial is a distraction: it collapses quickly as a dirty deal is done. Trellis is to be taken into the yard and razored.

At this darkest hour, a happy ending is the most surreal thing which can happen, so it does. After the description of an epic poem, in imitation or tribute to Joyce's Ulysses, we learn - to our surprise - that the narrator has passed his exams. In a reflection on the business of conclusions, the whole nightmare seems to be placed in the category of a literary madness. The final image of a German suicide obsessed by the number three seems a final gesture of tidy finality, entirely divorced from the Irish Lords of Misrule who have governed the tale. Conclusion of the foregoing. :)
 
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Peripart

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#13
The Third Policeman. :clap::clap::clap:
Yes, I'm pleased that that was the first O'Brien book I read, as it all made sense - well, in a dreamlike sort of way, at least. I've since read the Dalkey Archive, and if I hadn't prepared myself with the Third Policeman, I'd have found it rather hard going, I think. Harder to understand, at least.
 
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#15
Yours, Sincerely and Otherwise – An Irishman’s Diary on the collected letters of Flann O’Brien
by Frank McNally
Sat, Sep 10, 2016, 01:01

Before the name “Flann O’Brien” ever appeared on a book, it featured on this newspaper’s letters page, in shadowy circumstances. It was January 1939, and the subject was a play at the Abbey by Frank O’Connor, which had earned poor reviews, provoking O’Connor’s friend Seán O’Faoláin into his public defence.

The letter from “Flann O’Brien” in turn tackled O’Faoláin (or offered to). As theatre criticism goes, it was unusual for, among other things, suggesting they might settle their differences via a boxing match. But if this was a joke, neither O’Connor nor O’Faoláin laughed.

Certain illustrious exiles aside, the two men were then the dominant figures in Irish literature. And they now entered the letters fray in joint defence.

Railing against “literary gangsters”, O’Connor demanded to know how long “the publication of violent personal abuse and challenges to fisticuffs” had been part of the editor’s remit. In more sarcastic vein, he also noted that “Flann O’Brien” had forgotten to include an address where O’Faoláin might find him.

As for the latter, he was no less sure that “Flann O’Brien” was a cover name, and no wiser as to who lurked behind it. But in expressing contempt for his critics, O’Faoláin unwittingly mentioned an establishment to which he should have directed inquiries: “To what levels do we descend in our refined newspapers!” he lamented grandiosely. “Never mind – there is a monument beside the Scotch House to a policeman who died bravely while trying to rescue somebody from the public sewer. Let not my epitaph be written until it is written thereon – as one who descended far lower in a better cause.”

On Dublin’s Burgh Quay, the Scotch House pub was popular with civil servants from the nearby Custom House, who by then included one Brian O’Nolan.

In later years, he would call it his “office”. And the frequency of his visits there would help hasten his retirement from the actual office, in what he termed the “Department of Yokel Government”. ...

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/y...-collected-letters-of-flann-o-brien-1.2785968
 
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#16
Stranger than Science Fiction – An Irishman’s Diary about Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke, and Flann O’Brien
Fri, Nov 25, 2016, 01:00 Updated: Fri, Nov 25, 2016, 17:26
by Frank McNally

There are no bicycles in Philip K Dick’s 1969 sci-fi classic, Ubik. On the contrary, the book is set in a then-distant future (actually 1992), when space travel has become routine, with the plot’s pivotal event happening on the moon.

Even so, as a number of critics have noted, there are striking similarities between Dick’s novel and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, which had been published only a year or two beforehand (although written in 1940).

In both books, the chief protagonist spends most of his time dead. Both plots also revolve around explosions.

And a running theme in each is the existence of a vague but omnipotent substance – “omnium” in O’Brien’s case, and the eponymous “Ubik” in Dick’s.

There is no evidence of conscious copying. The books are otherwise very different, so the parallels may just have been products of similarly warped minds.

Warps – of time, especially – were a favourite theme of Dick’s. His characters are disturbed by frequent slippages of reality, in which the world around them seems to decay or regress. For this and other reasons, Ubik ends on an uncertain, disorienting note. ...

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/s...k-arthur-c-clarke-and-flann-o-brien-1.2881012
 
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#17
Laughing matter – An Irishman’s Diary on a Mylesian symposium in 1986
Tue, Dec 27, 2016, 00:01
Deaglán de Bréadún

There were 150 “Mylesians” registered for the symposium, which took place at Newman House on St Stephen’s Green, where the great man spent much time in his student days.

Imagine spending three days laughing your head off – and getting paid for it. Such was the happy fate of the present writer when reporting for this newspaper on a symposium devoted to the life and work of Flann O’Brien, otherwise known as Myles na Gopaleen and, less often, under his real name of Brian Ó Nualláin/Brian O’Nolan.

Proceedings
It was doubly appropriate that the event started on April Fool’s Day, 1986: perfectly timed to celebrate a comic genius and one who left this world on that very date, 20 years before. Okay, it wasn’t all fun and games: I had to furnish some 2,000 words to the paper on the proceedings.
There were 150 “Mylesians” registered for the symposium, which took place at Newman House on St Stephen’s Green, where the great man spent much time in his student days.

Tonic
As he might have put it himself, Myles was “fond of a drop” and, in an opening lecture, his friend John Ryan recalled attending the writer’s funeral and meeting the poet Patrick Kavanagh, who told him about a recent visit to Myles in hospital. Kavanagh poured a naggin of gin into a glass for him and added a “half-thimbleful” of tonic.
“Almighty God, are your trying to drown the gin entirely?” protested Myles.

Ryan reeled off a list of Dublin pubs that Myles frequented in his day. Novelist Benedict Kiely, who was chairing the lecture, commented that he felt the urge to say “Pray for us” after every name.

The illustrious Canadian scholar Hugh Kenner was another lecturer and his presence was a further indication that, as well as being a “character” and “a gas man”, Myles/Flann was also a literary heavyweight.

Kenner devoted his attention to The Third Policeman and noted that the word “Garda” does not appear anywhere in the text. Meanwhile, in the best Mylesian tradition, a plan was hatched among the participants to have a man in Garda uniform arrive at Newman House after the lecture, to “take particulars”. Myles would have enjoyed that, but the prank was aborted and we were told that the real Garda Síochána refused to supply the uniform. ...

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/l...ary-on-a-mylesian-symposium-in-1986-1.2916725
 
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#18
100 Myles... and counting
The International
Flann O'Brien Society




THE PARISH BULLETIN
IFOBS Conference 2017

Second and Final Call For Papers
Send abstracts to [email protected] by 5 March 2017


Reduced rate Accommodation!
We have secured a number of reduced rate accommodation places for our delegates throughout the week of the conference - make sure to contact us ASAP while availability lasts!


Speakers, writers, performers, artists
(More to be announced...!)



https://www.univie.ac.at/flannobrien2011/IFOBS.html
 
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#19
Absurd Policeman – An Irishman’s Diary about Flann O’Brien and bicycles
Fri, Mar 31, 2017, 00:01
Frank McNally

It’s that time of year when many people are again wrestling with one of the great philosophical questions: “Is it about a bicycle?” Yes, tomorrow’s 51st anniversary of the death of Brian O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien, will bring the annual upsurge of interest in his work. And the aforementioned question will have special resonance this time, it being 50 years since it was first posed in his posthumously published comic masterpiece, The Third Policeman.

The Flannfest begins tonight with a radio “docu-drama” on Lyric FM, entitled Bones of Contention. Promoting which, the website says this: “If James Joyce is Ireland’s most discussed and least read author, then Brian O’Nolan must be Ireland’s most read and least discussed.” I’ll let Joyceans speak for themselves about the first part of that assertion, but as a confessed Flannorak, I’m not sure the second part is true anymore.

Our man might have suffered a discussion deficit once. But thanks to the International Flann O’Brien Society, for example, he has been the subject of three major conferences – in Vienna, Rome, and Prague – since 2011, with another (in Salzburg) happening this year. These events are now biennial; on a principle similar to crop rotation, the academics always leave the field 24 months to recover.

But in between, members of the global cult now satiate themselves with issues of an in-house journal, The Parish Review, or write their works of Flann/Myles scholarship for the much-prized, and also biennial, Father J Fahrt memorial awards. ...

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/a...ry-about-flann-o-brien-and-bicycles-1.3031040
 
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#20
Flann O’Brien: Man of (many) letters, man of many masks
Maebh Long, editor of 'The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien', on the writer's riotous letters to the press and revealing private correspondence, and how a theft almost robbed us of them
about 4 hours ago

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/...3475060?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

In his first published piece (a letter to the Irish Times) Flann provoked a fight with Frank O'Connor and Seán O'Faoláin . Though they were just discussing Irish theatre, it resulted in calls for a fist fight! Flann got off to a good start. This bokk of his letters looks worth a read.
 
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#21
A review of Flann's Collected Letters.

Scurrilous abuse and comic brilliance: The Collected Letters of Flann O’Brien
Review: Maebh Long, a brilliant critic of Brian O’Nolan, had to set herself some rules when tackling the author’s epistolary chaos


The name Flann O’Brien made its debut on this newspaper’s letters page in October 1938, intervening irreverently in a debate between two of Ireland’s literary eminences, Frank O’Connor and Sean Ó Faoláin.

So began an extended audition in which the man behind it, Tyrone-born civil servant Brian O’Nolan, would earn his own column, and thereby launch another pseudonym, Myles na gCopaleen, whose comic brilliance was to grace The Irish Times, on and off, for 26 years.

Flann O’Brien, meanwhile, went on to become the novel-writing wing of the O’Nolan franchise, first with At Swim-Two-Birds(1939), then The Third Policeman (1940, but unpublished in O’Nolan’s lifetime) and later, during a 1960s revival, with The Hard Life and The Dalkey Archive.

This unholy trinity of authors would have been a complicated challenge for any letters anthologist had O’Nolan not also written to newspapers under a bewildering range of other false flags.

So prolific was he that at least one real correspondent from the 1940s, Oscar Love, was long assumed to be among his inventions. Thus when Maebh Long, a brilliant critic of O’Nolan, was assigned the task of tackling his epistolary chaos, she had to set herself some rules.

Chief of these was that only material signed by one of the three main names, plus some of the more pertinent replies from third parties, would feature. But the slipperiness of the subject immediately demanded exceptions.

The funniest part of this collection is a drawn-out exchange of Irish Times letters between “Flann O’Brien” and “Lir O’Connor”, in which O’Nolan plays both parts of a row between two preposterous old fogeys, competing with childhood memories of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Swinburne, and others. ...

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/...-collected-letters-of-flann-o-brien-1.3468371
 

Fairlight

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#22
“I would not hurt you, little man,' he said.

'I think that I got the disorder in Mullingar,' I explained. I knew that I had gained his confidence and that the danger of violence was now passed. He then did something which took me by surprise. He pulled up his own ragged trouser and showed me his own left leg. It was smooth, shapely and fairly fat but it was made of wood also.

'That is a funny coincidence,' I said. I now perceived the reason for his sudden change of attitude.

'You are a sweet man,' he responded, 'and I would not lay a finger on your personality. I am the captain of all the one-legged men in the country. I knew them all up to now except one—your own self—and that one is now also my friend into the same bargain. If any man looks at you sideways, I will rip his belly.'

'That is very friendly talk,' I said.

'Wide open,' he said, making a wide movement with his hands. 'If you are ever troubled, send for me and I will save you from the woman.'

'Women I have no interest in at all,' I said smiling. 'A fiddle is a better thing for diversion.'

'It does not matter. If your perplexity is an army or a dog, I will come with all the one-leggèd men and rip the bellies. My real name is Martin Finnucane.'

'It is a reasonable name,' I assented.

'Martin Finnucane,' he repeated, listening to his own voice as if he were listening to the sweetest music in the world.”
― Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman
 
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#28
Anthony Cronin, in his memoir, Dead As Doornails, suggests that Brian O'Nolan's early virtuosity - as evinced in At Swim Two Birds - was never really repeated in novel form; his genius as a novelist being smothered by his genius as a columnist, and the demands made on him because of the latter – ‘the fate of the licensed jester had befallen him’.

Cronin’s book is a really fascinating insight into the literary and artistic world of the period, both in Ireland and London. Without reducing itself to clichés the whole thing does read like a bit like a Pogue’s lyric. Cronin – not behind the door when it came to pint or six himself – comes over as long suffering and generous to his friends. (Although Cronin clearly liked and respected his literary companions, I have to say that as a reader both Behan and Kavanagh come over as being right royal pains in the backside.) Despite the famous names, the booze, and the fighting, Cronin’s prose is matter of fact and avoids sensationalism (with all the famous names, booze and fighting he hardly needs it). It's a very entertaining read - i'd recommend it.

With regard to Myles na Gopaleen (Cronin generally seems to refer to him by this one of his several names) - there is a memorable scene in the book regarding a drunken fiftieth anniversary Bloomsday outing. (Bloomsday as an idea seems to have existed before this date – it is mentioned back in the 1920’s - but Cronin claims their particular form of pilgrimage/celebration as ‘the first’).

At a particular point during the increasingly drunken hike around Dublin and its environs, a short but steep slope and barbed wire fence had to be addressed, during the ascent of which a fierce competition between Myles na Gopaleen and Patrick Kavanagh broke out, resulting in a serious altercation, which involved the former in ‘typical terrier like fashion’ grabbing on to a terrified Kavanagh’s ‘enormous feet’ with such tenacious ferocity that all other parties present had to join forces in order to prise him off – and with some difficulty. (‘When Myles was drunk and angry he snarled, and he was snarling now.’)

Cronin describes Myles na Gopaleen as part ‘baby-faced Chicago gangster’ – and when you look at pictures of him you can see his point. I cannot now think of that scene without imagining a furious Joe Pesci biting a mildly hysterical Liam Neeson's ankles as they slide around in the Dublin mud, with various literary characters and a dentist trying to pull them apart.

The boys are here. Myles in the middle - and he does look like a wee scrapper:

Bloomsday.jpg
 
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Ogdred Weary

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#29
I'm a big fan of The Third Policeman, less so The Dalkey Archive which I didn't think was anywhere near as good. I've read some of the collected Myles na gCopaleen articles which I enjoyed.

BBC iplayer had an animated version of The Poor Mouth with English subtitles via BBC Alba earlier this year which was pretty good.
 
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