At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) - An Appendix of Elements

This selection of extracts from At Swim-Two-Birds has been made in the course of teaching the novels of Flann O'Brien as part of modules in Irish Literature at the University of Ulster for purposes of OHP display and as such it does not constitutes republication in any form. (Page references to Penguin Edn.) [To see this page in a separate window - click here.]

Some Textual Excerpts

Schematic Chart Episodes & Motifs

Textual Extracts

OPENING: ‘One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with. A good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.’ (1967 Penguin edn. p.9).

DRAM. PERSONAE: The Pooka Fergus MacPhellimey, a species of human Irish devil endowed with magical power. John Furriskey, A depraved character, whose task is to attack women and behave at all times in an indecent manner. By magic he is instructed by Trellis to go one night to Donnybrook where he will by arrangement meet and betray PEGGY, a domestic servant. He meets her and is much surprised when she confides to him that Trellis has fallen asleep and that her virtue had already been assailed by an elderly man subsequently to be identified as Finn MacCool, a legendary character hired by Trellis on account of the former’s venerable appearance and experience, to act as the girl’s father and chastise her for her transgressions against the moral law, and that her virtue has also been assailed by Paul Shanahan, another man hired by Trellis for performing various small and unimportant parts in the story … after a short time they discover that they have fallen in love with each other at first sight. They arrange to lead virtuous lives, to simulate the immoral actions, thoughts and words which Trellis demands of them on pain of the severest penalties … Meanwhile Trellis … creates a very beautiful and refined girl called Sheila Lamont, whose brother, Anthony Lamont he has already hired so there will be someone to demand satisfaction of John Furriskey for betraying her…. Trellis creates Miss Lamont in his bedroom [and] so far forgets himself as to assault her himself. (p.61; see continuation of same at p.164, in which Orlick takes lodgings with Furriskey and is recruited by Shanahan and Lamont ‘to compose a story on the subject of Trellis’.)

MYTHOLOGY: Finn MacCool was a legendary hero of old Ireland. Though not mentally robust, he was a man of superb physique and development. Each of his thighs was as thick as a horse’s belly, narrowing to a calf as thick as the belly of a foal. Three fifties of fosterlings could engage with handball against the wideness of his backside, which was wide enough to halt the march of warriors through a mountain pass. (The Third Opening; p.9.) Extract from my typescript descriptive of Finn Mac Cool and his people, being a humorous or quasi-humorous incursion into ancient mythology […] The neck was to him as the bole of a great oak, knotted […] together with muscle lumps and carbuncles of tangled sinew […] The chest to him was wider than the poles of a good chariot, coming now out, now in, an pastured from chin to navel with meadows of black man-hair and meated with layers of fine man-meat to hid his bones and fashion the semblance of twin bubs. (p.14). [S]mall wonder, said Finn, that Finn is without honour in the breast of a sea-blue book, Finn that is twisted and trampled and tortured for the weaving of a storyteller’s book-web. Who but a book-poet would dishonour the God-big Finn for the sake of a gap-worded story? (p.19.) Cf., Relate, then, said Conan, the account of the madness of King Sweeny and he on a madman’s flight through the length of Erin. (p.63.) fellicaun-eeha (p.131.) SWEENY as BIRD: […] TRELLIS as BIRD: Trellis was beleaguered by an anger and a darkness and he was filled with a restless tottering unquiet and with a disgust for the places he knew (p.179.)

LITERATURE: I reflected on the subject of my spare-time literary activities. (p.9; vide p.148, &c.) The washstand had a ledge upon which was I had arranged a number of books. Each of them was generally recognised as indispensable to all who aspire to an appreciation of the nature of contemporary literature and my small collection contained works ranging from those of Mr Joyce to the widely read books of Mr A. Huxley, the eminent English writer. (Ibid., p.11.) FINN: Who but a story-teller? Indeed, it is true that there has been ill-usage to the men of Erin from the book-poets of the world and dishonour to Finn […] (p.20.) [T]his remark provoked between us a discussion on the subject of Literature - great authors living and dead, the character of modern poetry, the predilections of publishers and the importance of being at all times occupied with literary activities of a spare-time or recreative character. […T]he names of great Russian masters were articulated with fastidious intonation. Witticisms were canvassed, depending for their utility on a knowledge of the French language as spoken in medieval times. Psycho-analysis was mentioned - with, however, a somewhat light touch. (p.24.) [Conversation with Donaghy:] We talked together in a polished manner, utilising with frequency words from the French language, discussing the primacy of America and Ireland in contemporary letters and commenting on the inferior work produced by writers of the English nationality. (p.45); high-class work of another writer, Mr Pound (p.45.) We had been discussing the craft of writing and had averted to the primacy of Irish and American authors in the world of superior or better-class letters. [… Brinsley] expressed his inability to distinguish between Furriskey, Lamont and Shanahan, bewailed what he termed their spiritual and physical identity, stated that true dialogue is dependent on the conflict rather than the confluence of minds and made reference to the importance of characterisation in contemporary [160] literary works of a high-class, advanced or literary nature. (p.161.) they discover what appears to be some pages of manuscript of a high-class story in which the names of painters and French wines are used with knowledge and authority […] Orlick has inherited his father’s gift (p.164.)

THE NOVEL (genre): The novel, in the hands of an unscrupulous writer, could be despotic. In reply to an inquiry, it was explained that a satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity. It was undemocratic to compel characters to be uniformly good or bad or poor or rich. Each should be allowed a private life, self-determination and a decent standard of living […] Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature could be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they failed to find [a] suitable existing character as required, creating only when they failed to find an existing supporting puppet. The modern novel should be largely a work of reference. Most authors spend their time saying what has been said before - usually said much better. A wealth of reference to existing works would acquaint the reader instantaneously with the nature of each character, would obviate tiresome explanations and would effectively preclude mountebanks, upstarts, thimbleriggers and persons of inferior education from an understanding of contemporary literature. / That is all my bum [balls, in MS; and cf. a balls of it, 63], said Brinsley.’ (p.25.) It happens that a portion of my manuscript containing an account (in the direct style) of the words that passed between Furriskey and the voice is lost beyond retrieval. (p.50); loss of portion of my day-papers […] My literary spare-time compositions, written not infrequently with animation and enjoyment, I always found tedious [59 …] the forty pages which followed the lost portion were so vital to the operation of the ingenious plot which I had devised that I [spent] an April afternoon glancing through them in a critical if precipitate manner. an inexplicable chasm in the pagination [… and a]n accountable omission of one of the four improper assaults required by the ramification of the plot or argument, together with an absence of structural cohesion and a general feebleness of literary style (p.60.) The plot has him well in hand (p.99.) […] Trellis was nearly always asleep and awoke at predeterminable hours, when everything would be temporarily in good order. (p.100.) The two boys were saved on this occasion by the bell. Trellis was about to waken, so they had to make a dash for it, leaving their half-took drinks behind. (p.102.) sophistry of mathematics (p.108.) It will be observed that the omission of several pages at this stage does not materially disturb the continuity of the story (p.145.) Assuming that the master had gone to a certain place, she placed the tray on the landing and returned to the room … revived the fire and made a good blaze by putting into it several sheets of writing which were littered here and there … By a curious coincidence as a matter of fact strange to say it happened that these same pages were those of the master’s novel, the pages of which made and sustained the existence of Furriskey and his [215] true friends. (pp.215-16.) Ars est celare artem, muttered Trellis, doubtful as to whether he had made a pun. (p.216.)

TRELLIS's NOVEL: It appeared to him that a great and a daring book - a green book - was the crying need of the hour - a book tha twould show the terrible cancer of sin in its true light and act as a clarion call to torn humanity….. Evil, it seemed to him, was the most contagious of all known diseases. Put a thief amongst honest men and they will eventually relieve him of his watch. I his book he would present two examples of humanity - a man of great depravity and a woman of unprecedented virtue. They meet. The woman is corrupted, eventually ravished and done to death in a back lane. Presented in its own milieu, in the timeless conflict of grime and beauty, gold and black, sin and grace, the tale would be a moving and a salutary one. mens sana in corpore sano. What a keen discernment had the old philosopher! How well he knew that the beetle was of the dunghill, the butterfly of the flower! Conclusion of extract. (p.36.)

AESTHO-AUTOGAMY: The central villain will be a man of unexampled depravity, so bad that he must be created ab ovo et initio (p.35); His [Trellis’s] pencil moved slowly across the ruled paper, leaving words behind it of every size. He was engaged in the creation of John Furriskey, the villain of his tale. (p.39.) Aestho-autogamy with one unknown quantity on the male side, Mr Trellis told me in conversation, has long been a commonplace. For fully five centuries in all parts of the world epileptic slavies have been pleading it in extenuation of uncalled-for fecundity. It is a very familiar phenomenon in literature. The elimination of conception and pregnancy, however, or the reduction of the processes to the same mysterious abstraction as that of the paternal factor in the commonplace case of unexplained maternity, has been [40] the dream of every practising psycho-eugenist the world over. I am very happy to have been fortunate enough to bring a century of ceaseless experiment and endeavour to a triumphant conclusion. (pp.40-41.) The porcess of bringing up children is a tedious anachronism in these enlighted times. Those mortifying strategems collectively known as birth-control would become a mere memory if partents and married couples could be assured that their legitimate diversion would straightway result in finished breadwinners or marriageable daughters. (p.41.) The passage [dealing with birth of son of Orlick] served to provoke a number of discussions with my friends and acquaintances on the subject of aestho-psycho-eugenics and the general chaos which would result if all authors were disposed to seduce their female characters and bring into being, as a result, offspring of a quasi-illusory type. (p.144.)

PSYCHOLOGY: Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression.’ (opening sentence; p.9.); I hurt a tooth in the corner of my jaw with a lump of the crust I was eating. This recalled me to the perception of my surroundings. (p.10); ‘I closed my eyes, hurting slightly my right stye, and retired into the kingdom of my mind. For a time there was complete darkness and an absence of movement on the part of the cerebral mechanism. […] After an interval Finn MacCool, a hero of old Ireland, came out before me from his shadow […]’ (p.13); ‘When a man sleeps, he is steeped and lost in a limp, toneless happiness, awake he is restless, tortured by his body and the illusion of existence. Why have men spent the centuries seeking to overcome the awakened body? Put it to sleep, that is a better way. Let it serve only to turn the sleeping soul over, to change the blood-stream and thus make possible a deeper and more refined sleep.’ (p.89.) [(Davy) Byrne, publican:] When a man sleeps, he is steeped and lost in a limp toneless happiness .. we must invert our conception of repose and activity […] We should not sleep to recover the energy expended when awake but rather wake occasionally to defecate the unwanted energy that sleep engenders. (p.98). The body is too transient a vessel to warrant other than perfunctory investigation. Only in this regard is it important, that it affords the mind a basis for speculation and conjecture. Let me recommend to you, Mr Shanahan, the truer spiritual prophylaxis contained in the mathematics of Mr Furriskey. Ratiocination on the ordered basis of arithmetic is man’s passport [189] to infinity. (p.189-90.) When his wits returned to Dermot Trellis, they did not come together but singly and at intervals. They came, each with its own agonies, and sat uneasily on the outer border of the mind as if in readiness for going away again. (p.193.) Trellis […] fashioned a long sentence in his mind but the words he put on it were lost by the activity of a string orchestra in the gallery which struck up a stirring anthem.’ (p.195.) The refinement of physical agony, he enunciated, are limited by an ingenious arrangement of the cerebral mechanism and the sensory nerves which precludes from registration all emotions, sensations and perceptions abhorrent to the fastidious maintenance by Reason of its discipline and rule over the faculties and the functions of the body. […G]o beyond the agreed statutory limit, says Reason, and I won’t be there at all. […] I will close the shop. (p.168.) The soul, the ego, the animus, continued Orlick, is very different from the body. Labyrinthine are the injuries inflictable on the soul. The tense of the body is the present indicative; but the soul has a memory and a present and a future […] I will pierce him with a pluterperfect. (p.168.) When his wits returned to Dermot Trellis, they did not come together but singly and at intervals. They came, each with its own agonies, and sat uneasily on the outer border of the mind as if in readiness for going away again. (p.193.) The invalid gathered his closely senses about as if they were his overcoat to ensure that they should not escape before his purpose was accomplished. (p.200.)

POETRY (Practice): FINN [reciting verses of St. Moling]: My curse on Sweeney!/His guilt against me is immense,/he pierced with his long swift javelin/My holy bell./…/Just as it went prestissimo/the spear-shaft skyward,/you, too, Sweeny, go madly mad-gone/skyward./../… My curse on you Sweeny. (p.65.) […] Bereft of fine women-folk,/the brooklime for a brother - /our choice for a fresh meal/is watercress always.//Without accomplished musicians/without generous women,/no jewel-gift for bards -/respected Christ, it has perished me. (p.67). Watercress from the well at Cirb/is my lot at terce,/its colour is my mouth./green on the mouth of Sweeney.//Chill chill is my body/when away from ivy,/the rain torrents it/and the thunder. (p.69.) […] Glen Bolcain my home ever,/it was my haven,/many a night have I tried/a race against the peak. (p.72.) SHANAHAN [reciting verses of Jem Casey]: When things go wrong and will not come right,/Though you do the best you can,/When life looks black as the hour of night/A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN. (p.77.) FINN: I do not relish/the mad clack of humans/sweeter warble of the bird/in the place he is.//I like not the trumpeting/heard at morn;/sweeter hearing is the squeal/of badgers in Benna Broc. (p.80.) SHANAHAN: When the stag appears on the mountain high,/with flanks the colour of bran,/when a badger bold can say goodbye, A PINT OF PLAIN IS YOUR ONLY MAN. (p.80.) The bell-belling of the stag through the woodland,/the climb to the deer-pass,/the voice of the white seas.//Forgive me Oh Great Lord,/mortal is this great sorrow,/worse than the black grief-/Sweeny the thin-groined. (p.82.) Terrible is my plight this night/the pure air has pierced my body,/lacerated my feet, my cheek is green - /O Mighty God, it is my due. (p.84.) I have journeyed from Luachair Dheaghaidh/to the edge of Fiodh Gaibhle,/this is my fare - I conceal it not - ivy-berries, oak-mast. (p.89.) Come all ye lads and lassies prime/From Macroom to old Strabane,/And list to me till I say my rhyme - /THE GIFT OF GOD IS THE WORKING MAN.//Your lords and people of high degree/Are a fine and noble clan,/They do their best but they cannot see/THAT THE GIFT OF GOD IS A WORKIN’ MAN. [… &c.] (p.121).

POETRY (Theory) PAUL SHAHAHAN: Give them a bloody pick […] give them the shaft of a shovel into their hand and tell them to dig a hole and have the length of a page of poetry off by heart in their heads before the five o’clock whistle. What will you get? […] Do you know what it is, I’ve met the others, the whole lot of them. I’ve met them all and know them all. I have seen them and I have read their pomes. I have heard them recited by men that know how to use their tongues, men that couldn’t be beaten at their own game. I have seen whole books filled up with their stuff, books as thick as that table there and I’m telling you no lie. But by God, at the heel of the hunt, there is only one poet for me. (p.74.) You can’t beat it, of course […] the real old stuff of the native land, you know, stuff that brought scholars to our shore when your men on the other side were on the flat of their bellies before the calf of gold with a sheepskin around their man. It’s the stuff that put our country where she stands today … and I’d have my tongue out of my head by the bloody roots before I’d be heard saying a word against it. But the man in the street, were does he come in? […] You can get too much of that stuff. Feed yourself up with that tack once and you won’t want more for a long time. (p.75.) Poetry is a thing I‘ am very fond of, said the Good Fairy. I always make a point of following the works of Mr Eliot and Mr Lewis and Mr Devlin. A good pome is a tonic. Was your pome on the subject of flowers, Mr Casey? Wordsworth was a great man for the flowers. (p.120.) Verse-speaking, they call it in London. (p.121.) The Ballad of Father Gilligan […] in the intermediate book […] a very nice spiritual thing (p.122.) Sweeny the thin-groined it is/in the middle of the yew/life is very bare here;/piteous Christ it is cheerless. (p.125.)

MUSIC: His bed was a timber article of great age … delicately made and embellished with delicately carved cornices. It was of Italian manufacturer, an early excursion of the genius of the great Stradivari. (p.31); I then recalled he [the uncle] was a member of an operatic society composed of residents of the Rathmines and Rathgar district, an indifferent baritone voice winning him a station in the chorus. (p.94) The travellers would sometimes tire of the drone of one another’s talk and join together in the metre of an old-fashioned song, filling their lungs with fly-thickened air and raising their voices above the sleeping trees. They sang Home on the Range and the pick of old cowboy airs […] they rendered old catches with full throats, and glees and riddle-me-raddies, Tipperary and Nellie Deane and The Shade of the Old Apple Tree […] Cuban love-songs and moonsweet madrigals and selections from the finest of the Italian operas, from the compositions of Puccini and Meyerbeer and Donizetti and Gounod and the Maestro Macagni as well as an aria from The Bohemian Girl by Balfe and intoned the choral complexities of Palestrina […] two hundred and forty-two (242) songs by Schubert in the original […] a chorus from Fidelio (by Beethoven of Moonlight Sonata fame) and the Song of the Flea […] as well as innumerable tuneful pleasantries from the able pens of no less than Mozart and Handel. […] Offenbach, Schumann, Saint-Saens and Granville Bantock [… &c.] (131.) The tune [played by the gramophone] came duly, a thin spirant from the Patience opera. (p.95.) ‘By hell the fiddle is the man [for me], said Lamont […] But it into the hand of a lad like Luke McFadden and you’ll cry like a child when you hear him at it …. Did you ever hear the immortal strains of the Crutch Sonata [sic for Kreutzer S.] now, the whole four strings playing there together, with plenty of plucking and scales and runs and a lilt that would make you tap the shoe leather of your foot? […] The smell of his clothes would knock you down but he was the best fiddler in Ireland, east or west. (p.150.) Clearing my nose in the bowl of the W.C., he [Furriskey] repeated with coarse laughing, that’s the singing I was at. I’m a right tenor when it comes to that game. (p.152.) Did you ever hear a great fiddler, a man by the name of Pegasus [sic for Paginini]? I believe he was the business. (p.153.) The blind are great harpers … great harpers altogether (p.156.) It would not be true to say that the sufferer on the chair was unconscious, however much his appreaance betokened that happy state, for he was listing to th epulse of a fine theme in three-four time, coming softly to his brain from illimitable remoteness. Darking he listened,. Softl it modulated through a gamut of graduated keys, terminating in a quiet coda. (p.202.)

ETHICS & RELIGION: turpitude and moral weakness of Mr Furriskey. It was pointed out to him by the voice that he was by vocation a voluptuary concerned only with the ravishing and destruction of the fair sex. (p.52); I’m not what you call fussy when it comes to women but damn it all I draw the line when it comes to carrying off a bunch of black niggers - human beings, you must remember - and a couple of thousand steer, by God. (p.55.); An act of quasi-angelic carnality on the part of such an issue would possibly result in further offspring consisting in composition of a half caro plus half the sum of a half caro and spiritus, that is, three quarters caro and a quarter spiritus. Further carrying-on would halve the spiritual content […] (p.106.) Has it never flitted across your minded that the riddle of the last number devolves on the ultimate appearance of a pooka or good spirit who will be so feeble a force for good or bad that he will produce no reagent and thus become himself the last and ultimate numeral […] whose chief characteristics must be anaemia, ineptitude, incapacity, inertia and a spineless dereliction of duty? (p.110.) [On the cock] And why wouldn’t he be proud with two sons in the jesuits? (p.137.) You won’t get very far by attacking the church, said Furriskey. (p.172.) this curious circumstance [178] that a dog as to his legs is evil and sinful but attains sanctity at th ehour of his urination. (pp.178-79.) Evil is even, truth is an odd number, and death is a full stop.’ (p.216.) Ratiocination on the ordered basis of arithmetic is man’s passport [189] to the infinite. God is the root of minus one. He is too great a profundity to be compassed by human cerebration. But Evil is finite and comprehensible and admits of calculation. Minus One, Zero and Plus One are the three insoluble riddles of the Creation. (p.190.) The riddel of the universe I might solve if I had a mind to … but I prefer the question to the answer. It serves men like us as a bottomless pretext for scholarly dialectic. (p.190.)

GAELIC CULTURE: One fine morning he [Sgt. Craddock, DMP] wakes up and is orders to proceed if you don’t mind to the Gaelic League Sports or whatever it was that was being held in the town […] to keep his eye open for sedition do you know and all the rest of it. […] [85] Oh it was all the fashion at one time, you were bloody nothing if you couldn’t do your Walls of Limerick. And here were my men with the fiddles and the pipes playing away there at the reels and jigs for further orders. […] the national music of our country, Rodney’s Glory, the Star of Munster and the Rights of Man. / The Flogging Reel and Drive the Donkey (p.85-86.) After all a Ceilidhe is not the place for it [old time waltzes], that’s all. A Ceilidhe is a Ceilidhe. I mean, we have our own. We have plenty of our own dances without crossing the road to borrow what we can’t wear. See the point? It’s all right but it’s not for us. Leave the waltz to the jazz-boys. By God they’re welcome as far as I’m concerned. (p.133.) The Gaelic League is opposed to the old-time waltz … So are the clergy. (p.134.) A brief address […] a few words in Irish first, of course (p.135.)

PATRIOTISM: That was always one thing […] that the Irish race was always noted for, one place where the world had to give us best. With all his faults and by God he has plenty, the Irishman can jump. By God he can jump. That’s one thing the Irish race is honoured for no matter where he goes or where you find it - jumping. The world looks up to us there. (p.85). He [Trellis] reads and writes only green books. That is an important point. (p.99). For many years he experienced a difficulty in obtaining a sufficiency of books to satisfy his active and inquiring mind, for the green colour was not favoured by the publishers of London, excluding those who issued text-books and treatises on such subjects as fretwork, cookery and parabolics. The publishers of Dublin, however, deemed the colour a fitting one for their many works on the subject of Irish history and antiquities and it is not surprising that Trellis came to be regarded as an authority thereon and was frequently consulted by persons engaged in research, including members of the religious orders, the enclosed class. (p.100.) Irish apples (p.146.) [apropos pimples:] ‘when the quality of the blood isn’t first class … the nation’s blood is getting worse, any doctor will tell you that. The half of it is poison.’ (p.157.).

CLASS & POLITICS: And then you have the Conditions of Employment Act, said the Good Fairy. Class legislation, that is what it is. Holidays with full pay, No wonder the moneyed classes are leaving the country. Bolshevism will be the next step. / I admire the working man immensely, said the Pooka … He is the backbone of family life. (p.120.) His voice … had the accent and intonation usually associated with the Dublin lower or working classes. (p.49.) […] mission of debauchery. His life was to be devoted without distraction to the attainment of his empirical lusts. (p.52.) You can’t get enough of them the same women (p.62). Something for your tea … keep the fun clean. (p.64.) It was more by coincidence than anything else that these gentlmen were not observed to have been joined by a third […] It might at first appear to the illiterati or uninitatied that a person devoid of practically all the virtues and excellences just enumerated in respect of the other gentlemen would have but little to recommend him. Such a hypothesis, however, would involve a very serious fallacy and one of which Anthony Lamont could be said to constitute a living refutation. (p.188.) The accused … threatened the membrers of the deputation who waited on him with certain physical afflictions, most of which were degrading and involved social stigma. (p.202.)

SEXUALITY: [Uncle:] I know the studying you do in your bedroom. Damn the studying you do in your bedroom. I denied this. (p.11); Who [but story-tellers] could think to turn the children of a king into white swans with the loos of their own bodies … changing the fat white legs of a maiden into plumes and troubling her [19] body with shameful eggs? (p.20); BRINSLEY: Slaveys, he considered, were the Ford cars of humanity … [b]ut they were grand girls and there was nothing he liked better, he said. (p.32.) He was apparently not a virgin, although it is admittedly difficult to establish this attribute with certainty in the male. (p.40.) Hastily I covered such sheets as [91] contained reference to the forbidden question of the sexual relations. (pp.91-92.) chastity is truth and truth is an odd number. (p.106); the kangaroolity of women (p.106.) It is indisputable […] that a woman kangaroo is provided with a built-in bag wherein youngsters and trinklets may be stored until such time as they are required […] (p.107.) It is possible that my kangaroo has hidden them in her pouch, for by the hoke there was never a child there. (p.108.) invert my kangaroo the way my lost property will fall out on the hard stones of my poor kitchen (p.109); If you are a the woman class I must courteously ask you to turn your back / I have no back to turn, said the Good Fairy (p.111.) A marsupial is another name for an animal that is fitted with a built-in sack the way it can carry its young ones about. […] If that is a marsupial, said the Pooka courteously, where is the difference? Surely the word kangaroo is more descriptive [of woman]? (p.123.) Three clean respectable women to cut the bread (p.137.) Granya was certainly a very fine-looking lump of a girl. (p.141.) Doubts as to the sex of cattle […] arise only when the animal is early in its youth and can easily be resolved by the use of a prongs or a probing instrument, or - better still - a magnifying glass (p.173.) […] a female of the slavey class […] When she left me to go to him, she was a good girl and attentive to her religious duties. […] When she returned to me she was in a certain condition [i.e., pregnant] (p.199.) When not in advanced pregnanc, a cow will suffer extreme discomfort if not milkd at least once in twenty-four hours. (p.203.) […] another important office discharged by a cow-keeper, a seasonal rite not entirely unconnected with the necessity for providing milk for our great-grandchildren … (p.204.) […] ill-conditioned attempt […] to introduce into the proceedings an element of smut […] (p.205.) She was violently assaulted by the accused an hour after she was born and died indirectly from the effects of the assault some time later. The proximate cause of her death was puerperal sepsis. (p.206.)

ALCOHOL: [Christian Brothers Reader:] ‘All medical authorities tell us it is a double poison […]’ (21). On the other hand, young men of my acquaintance who were in the habit of voluntarily placing themselves under the influence of alcohol had often surprised me with a recital of their strange adventures. The mind may be impaired by alcohol, I mused, but withal it may be pleasantly impaired. (p.22.) KELLY: ‘You can’t beat a good pint’ (p.22.) ‘I started to puke and puked till the eyes nearly left my head. I made a right haimes of my suit. I puked till I puked air. […] I thought my stomach was on the floor’ (p.23.) I proceeded home one evening in October after leaving a gallon of half-digested porter on the floor of a public-house in Parnell Street (p.23). The same afternoon I was sitting on a stool in an intoxicated condition in Grogan's licensed premises. Adjacent stools bore the formsof Brinsley and Kelly, my two true friends. The three of us were occupiedin putting glasses of stuot into the interior of our bodies and expressing by fine disputation the resulting sense of physical and mental well-being. […] the stout was of superior quality, soft against the tongue but sharp upn the orifice of the throat, softly efficient in its magical circulation through the conduits of the body. (p.38). Kelly then made a low noise and opened his mouth and covered the small man from shoulder to knee with a coating of unpleasant buff-coloured puke. (p.39.) I refer to the inner man [i.e., needs spirits to drink] (p.135.) POISON (Hemlock): At the heel of the hunt, your inside is around you on the floor … At the finish you are bag of air. You puke the whole shooting gallery. [To which:] If you ask me, said Shanahan quickly, I had an odd pint of that tack in my time. (p.155.)

'SAPIENT COLLOQUY': A time passed in casual dialectics. (p.102.) They did not cease, either walking or eating, from the delights of colloquy and harmonised talk in character [130] nor did Sweeny desist for long from stave-music or from the recital of his misery in verse. (p.131.) colloquy and fine talk (p.142.)

COMIC LISTING: The party then moved slowly on, the poet taking a last look at the clump where he had sat in conclave with a synod of tinkers, thimble-riggers, gombeen-men, beggars, channel-rakers, bacaughs, broom-men, and people from every walk of life in the lower order, singing and reciting a selection of his finest lyrics. (p.122.) They rubbed him and cajoled him and plied him with honey-talk and long sweet-lilted sentences fill of fine words, and promised him metheglin and mugs of viscous tar-black mead thickened with white years and the spoils from hives of mountain-bees, and corn-coarse nourishing farls of wheaten dipped in musk-scented liquors and sodden with Belgian sherry, an orchard and a swarm of furry honey-glutted bees and bin of sun-bronzed grain […] (p.129.) They also did not hesitate to promise him sides of hairy bacon, the mainstay and the staff of life of the country classes, and lamb chops still succulent with young blood, autumn heavy yams from venerable stooping trees [… &c.]; pp.129-30.). stacked the paper wallsteads with the colourful wealth of their offerings and their fine gifts - their golden sheaves of ripened barley, firkins of curdy cheese, berries and acorns and crimson yams [… &c.] (p.138.)

UCD [UNIVERSITY]: The College is outwardly a rectangular plain building with a fine porch where the midday sun pours down in summer from the Donnybrook direction, heating the steps for the comfort of the students. The hallway inside is composed of large black and white square arranged in the orthodox chessboard pattern, and the surrounding walls, done in an unpretentious cream wash, bear three rough smudges caused by the heels, buttocks and shoulders of the students. […] modest girls [… 34] many of the boys extinguished their cigarettes […] stopping on the stairs to call back […] a message of facetious or obscene import. (p.33-34; cf. infra, p.34.) The people who attended the College had banded themselves into many private associations, some purely cultural and some concerned with the arrangement and conduct of ball games. The cultural societies were diverse in character and aims and measured their vitality by the number of hooligans and unprincipled persons they attracted to their deliberations. Some were devoted to English letters, some to Irish letters and some to the study of the French language. (p.48.)

COWBOYS: [Lamont as] cowpuncher in the Ringsend district of Dublin city. (p.53); the day that Tracy brought cow-punchers to Ringsend (p.53); [obit. of Tracy:] the only writer to demonstrate that cow-punching could be economically carried on in Ringsend (p.53). cantering up Mountjoy Square with our hats titled back on our heads and the sun in our eyes and our gun-butts swinging in our holsters. (p.54); nigger-skivvies … negro maids [54] … human beings (p.54-55); The old Dublin custom of utilising imported negroid labour for operating the … cooking-galley is still observed (p.56); ‘Down we got offa the buckboard to our hands and knees and up with us towards the doss-house on our bellies, our silver-mounted gun-butts jiggling at our hips, our eyes narrowed into slits and jaws set and stern like be damned.’ Cf., relevant excerpt from the Press, A number of men, stated to be labourers, were arraigned before Mr Lamphall in the district Court yesterday […] on charges of riotous assembly and malicious damage. (Penguin 1967, p.56). Next day didn’t the super bring the enemy punchers up before the bench and they got every [58] man of them presented free of charge with seven days’ hard without option. […] Remarking that no civilised society could tolerate organised hooliganism of this kind, the justice sentenced the accused to seven days’ hard labour without the option of a fine […; pp.58-59].

JOYCEAN ELEMENTS: Everyone has a different face and a separate way of talking (p.146.) sowing in his heart throughout that time the seeds of evil, revolt, and non-serviam. (p.150.) Note further resemblances to ‘‘Cyclops’’, ‘‘Ithaca’’ and ‘‘Circe’’ in gigantic and cathetical portions as well as in the Bloomian trial scene. Was Hamlet mad? […] Was [Trellis] a victim of hard-to-explain hallucinations? It is extremely hard to say. Nobody knows. Even experts do not agree on these vital points. Professor Unternehmer, the eminent German eurologist, points to Claudius as a lunatic but allows that Trellis an inverted sow neurosis wherein the farrow eat their dam. Du Fernier, however, Professor of Mental Sciences and Sanitation at the Sorbonne, deduces a want of hygiene in the author’s bed-habits a progressive weakening of the head. (p.217.) BECKETTIAN ELEMENTS: Mind/body division; game of chess.

SOLECISMS (Selected): the immortal strains of the Crutch Sonata (p.150.); They call the dose a draught of hemlock, Lamont said, they made it from garlic and other things. Homer finished his days on earth with his cup of poison. He drank it alone in his cell. / There was another ruffian, said Mrs Furriskey. He persecuted the Christians. (p.155.) paralysed from the knee up (p.159.)

ENDING: Conclusion of the book, ultimate: Evil is even, truth is an odd number and death is a full stop. When a dog barks late at night and then retires again to bed, he punctuates and gives majesty to the serial enigma of the dark, laying it more evenly and heavily upon the fabric of the mind. Sweeny the the trees hears the sad baying as he sits listening on the branch, a huddle between the earth and heaven; and he hears also the answering mastiff that is counting the watches in the next parish. Bark answers bark till the call spreads like fire [216] through all Erin. Soon the moon comes up from behind her curtains, riding full tilt across the sky, lightsome and unperturbed in her immemorial calm. The eyes of the mad king upon the branch are upturned, whiter eyeballs in a white face, upturned in fear and supplication. His mind is but a shell. Was Hamlet mad? Was Trellis mad? It is extremely hard to say. Was he a victim of hard hallucatations? Nobody knows. Even experts do not agree on points. Professor Unternehmer, the eminent neurologist, points to Claudius as a lunatic but allows Trellis an inverted sow neurosis wherein the farrow eat their dam.,Du Fernier, however, Professor of Mental Sciences and Sanitation at the Sorbonne, deduces from a want of hygiene in the author’s bed-habits a progressive weakening of the head. It is of importance the most inestimable, he writes, that for mental health there should he walking and not overmuch of the bedchamber. The more one studies the problem, the more fascinated one becomes and incidentally the more one postulates a cerebral norm. The accepted principles of Behavourism. do not seem to give much assistance. Neither does heredity help for his father was a Galwayman, sober and industrious, tried and true in the service of his country. His mother was from far Fermanagh, a woman of grace and fair learning and a good friend to all. But which of us can hope to probe with questioning finger the dim thoughts that flit in a fool’s head? One man will think he has a glass bottom and will fear to sit in case of breakage. In other respects he will be a man of great intellectual force and will accompany one in a mental ramble throughout the labyrinths of mathematics or philosophy so long as he is allowed to remain standing throughout the disputations. Another man will be perfectly polite and well conducted except that he will in no circumstances turn otherwise than to the right and indeed will own a bicycle so constructed that it cannot turn otherwise than to that point. Others will be subject to colours and will attach undue merit to articles that are red or. green or white merely because they bear that hue. Some will be exercised and influenced by the texture of a cloth or by the roundness or angularity of an object. Numbers, however, will account for a great proportion of unbalanced and suffering humanity. One man will rove the streets seeking motor-cars with numbers that are divisible by seven. Well known, alas, is the case of the poor German who was very fond of three and who made each aspect of his life a [217] thing of triads. He went home one evening and drank three cups of tea with three lumps of sugar in each, cut his jugular with a razor three times and scrawled with his dying hand on a picture of his wife good-bye, good-bye, good-bye. [pp.215-217; END]

At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)
Schematic Chart Episodes & Motifs

The following charts and indexes of elements offer a schematic approach to Flann O’Brien’s first novel following the pattern of Joyce's Ulysses which the author mapped for several readers in similar schemae such as that supplied to its Italian translation Carlo Linati [as supra] - and might be regarded as a point-of-departure for further critical reflection on the work rather than a definite blue-print of its structure. [BS]


A Schematic Chart of At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien

‘The plot has him well in hand …’ (p.99.)
Narrative levels Domestic/Urban Public/Urban Authors’ level Characters’ level (1) Characters’ level (2) Characters’ level (3)
Dram. Personae Narrator’s
uncle & his associates
Narrator’s associates (Brinsley, &c.) Trellis[es], Tracy, Red Kiersey, Casey Furriskey / Shanahan
/ Lamonts
Finn/Sweeny, Pooka, Good Fairy Shorty Anderson, Slug Willard, et al.
Location; milieu lwr. middle class; newly-urban Irish; pietistic; self-approving; moral university; public houses; bohemian & declassé; amoral Literary; CTS; romance; ’Wild West’; moralistic working-class; unstable; sentimental violent; immoral Gaelic Ireland (heroic & medieval) rural Ireland; c. literary revival US Wild West (cowboys) /
Ringsend working-class Dublin
stylistic effects* obiter dicta; cliché; familiarism; committee-talk, &c. ‘dialectics’; rhet. classification; lit. allusions; puns; innuendoes. DISTINCTIVE and/or MIXED acc. to Narrator, Episode, Character, Context, &c. vulgarism; solecism & cliché; inv. snobbery; sadism & sentiment ‘sapient colloquy’; verbal extravagance; heroic listing; courteousness & archaism slang; cant; solecism & belligerence
Register & idiolect Hiberno-English (demotic); pietistic; credulous; patriotic educated & abstruse; high/low; ‘facetious & obscene’ Literary; solipsistic; romantic & moralistic Hiberno-Irish (vulg.); sentimental; patriotic; vulgar Mythological (heroic); lyrical; hyperbolic; Thersitic American English (demotic, ‘Western’)
Textual models§ Clerical & bureacratic texts; School texts; ‘low life’ publications; lit. arcana*; modernism Literary revival; pop. literature & romance; silver spoon novels ballad, song; pop. opera; musical hall. Buile Suibhne; Finn Cycle; ‘‘Diarmuid agus Grania’’, &c. pulp fiction & cinema(US)

*Note also the recurrent use of metatextual elements, viz., ‘figure of speech’, ‘description of […&c.]’, ‘conclusion of the foregoing’, and ‘synopsis of what has gone before for the benefit of new readers’ (p.150, &c.). ****i.e.,

§Additional models incl. medical, scientific, social & statistical memoranda, journalism, literary curiosities (notably the probably spurious Conspectus of Arts & Natural Sciences), Joycean fiction (notably Dubliners and several chapters of Ulysses).

An Index of Episodes & Motifs
’special crown’
Stradavarius [bed]
Donaghy [MacDonagh]
college life
nigger skivvies
Sweeny astray
“Pint of Plain”
Irish dancing
son of Sirach
sapient colloquy
[Denis] Devlin
ageless minstrelsy
Crutch [Kreutzer]
Pegasus [Paginini]
Antient Concert Rooms [sic]
ars celare artem
9, 13, 189, 193, 195
28, 29
44, 49
60; 183
215 [&c.]




SWEENY’s Poems

Morning descriptions

9 [chewing]; 151 [sugarbowl]; 180 [cigarette]

23 [released … anger]; 130 [comic listing]; 156 [memory]; 161 [list of characteristics]; 218 [farrow/sow].

45 [‘high-class’]; 76 [‘class of stuff’]; 144 [‘good-quality key’]; 157 [‘first class’]; 160 [‘superior or better-class letters’]; 164 [‘high-class story’]; 205, 214

64, 70, 79, 125

177, 184 (“rosy fingered dawn”)

Note also the pervasive use of rhetorical captions and editorial phrases denoting sections of the manuscript according to the level of narration (or otherwise) including ‘Biographical reminiscence, part the nth’, ‘conclusion of extract’, ‘for the benefit of new readers’, &c.

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