Traditions and Trends
Oral Tradition with a Twist: Flann O’Brien’s Short Fiction and Nation Building
Twentieth-century Irish short fiction has often been a vehicle for political commentary and a means of coming to terms with the violent fight for Irish independence. Prominent authors who are often mentioned in this respect are, of course, Seán O’Faoláin and Frank O’Connor, who voiced their critique of post-independence Ireland in rather explicit terms in their realist stories.1 The short fiction of Flann O’Brien, to the contrary, is far less often linked to these political and nationalist concerns, even though he published his stories around the same time and in some of the same magazines as O’Faoláin and O’Connor. The two stories I will discuss in this paper, ‘The Martyr’s Crown’ and ‘A Bash in the Tunnel’, were both published in Envoy: A Review of Art and Literature in Ireland. This literary magazine was founded and edited by John Ryan and also features stories by O’Connor and O’Faoláin. Conversely, O’Brien’s work was also published in The Bell under the editorship of O’Faoláin. Although O’Brien’s short fiction is generally less well-known than that of his contemporaries, his work also deserves to be read within the social and political context of post-independence Ireland. As I will argue in this paper, while O’Brien’s experimental, humorous and satirical stories depart from the tradition of ← 173 | 174 → the realist story in mid-century Ireland, his stories nevertheless address similar themes and can be seen to deliver a political commentary through the medium of storytelling. The stories...
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