Origins, Contexts, Publics
Edited By Edwina Keown and Carol Taaffe
Eamonn Hughes Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction 111
Eamonn Hughes Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction1 Flann O’Brien once joked that Adolf Hitler started a world war in order to put a halt to his then budding career as a novelist: In the year 1939, a book curiously named AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS appeared. Adolph [sic] Hitler took serious exception to it and in fact loathed it so much that he started World War II in order to torpedo it. In a grim irony that is not without charm, the book survived the war while Hitler did not.2 As is usual with O’Brien’s writing all is not quite what it seems with this joke. For a start there is more truth to it than might appear. At Swim-Two- Birds may have survived, but not unscathed: having sold 244 copies by the autumn of 1939, remaining stocks of the first edition of the novel were destroyed when Longman’s premises at St Paul’s Churchyard were bombed in the autumn of 1940.3 In turn, war-time paper shortages may have been a factor in the rejection of The Third Policeman. Such matters of history 1 Parts of this chapter were given as papers at the IASIL Conference, Sydney, July 2006 (organiser Peter Kuch) and the Irish Modernism Conference, Trinity College, Dublin, October 2007 (organisers Edwina Keown and Carol Taaffe). I am grateful to the organisers of the conferences and to those present at the respective sessions for helpful questions and comments. 2 ‘Cruiskeen Lawn’, Irish Times (4 February 1965), reprinted...
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