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Irish Modernism

Origins, Contexts, Publics


Edited By Edwina Keown and Carol Taaffe

This is the first interdisciplinary volume to present a sustained examination of the emergence, reception and legacy of modernism in Ireland. Engaging with the ongoing re-evaluation of regional and national modernisms, the essays collected here reveal both the importance of modernism to Ireland, and that of Ireland to modernism. Central concerns of the book include definitions of and critical contexts for an Irish modernism, issues of production, reception and the marketplace, new dialogues between literature and the visual arts in Ireland, modernism and Catholicism, and Irish modernism’s relationship with European and Anglo-American modernism. With contributions from established and emerging scholars in both Irish Studies and Modernist Studies, this collection introduces fresh perspectives on modern Irish culture that reflect new understandings of the contradictory and contested nature of modernism itself.


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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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