Flann O'Brien: Acting out

edited by Paul Fagan & Dieter Fuchs

Fagan, P. & Fuchs, D. (Eds.) (2022). Flann O'Brien: Acting out. Cork University Press.


From the publisher's website:

Flann O’Brien: Acting out is the first full-length study to comprehensively address the themes of performance, masking and illusion in the author’s fiction, columns, correspondence and scripts. These essays reveal, for the first time, the fullness of O’Brien’s literary engagements with diverse theatrical movements (melodrama, revivalism, tableaux vivant, Grand Guignol, modernist anti-theatre) and playwrights (Shakespeare, Goethe, Boucicault, Synge, Yeats, Gregory, Pirandello, Brecht, Beckett, Čapek).

Often considered a lonely pioneer of the Irish novel, the author is here resituated both among a troupe of mid-century playwrights, producers and performers (mac Liammoír, Edwards, Saroyan, Montgomery, Sheridan, MacNamara, O’Dea) and in front of discrete local audiences (at The Irish Times, the Abbey, the Gate, Radio Éireann, Telefís Éireann). A new picture of O’Brien emerges as a performative and collaborative writer, firmly imbedded in the cultural networks and institutions of his time and place.

Flann O’Brien: Acting out draws unprecedented attention to the author’s critically neglected writing for stage and screen (Thirst, Faustus Kelly, Rhapsody in Stephen’s Green, An Sgian, The Handsome Carvers, Mairéad Gillan, The Dead Spit of Kelly). These scripts are here reevaluated against their historical contexts and through their thematics of war, nationalism, gender, nonhuman bodies and posthuman identity. At the same time, innovative readings of the role of masking and mimicry in the fiction and columns (At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman, ‘John Duffy’s Brother’, ‘The Martyr’s Crown’, Cruiskeen Lawn) shed new critical light on O’Brien’s pseudonyms, his theories of literary performance, his modulation of comic and tragic tone, and his shifting place in Irish modernism.


Paul Fagan is a Senior Scientist at the Department of English and American Studies, Salzburg University.

Dieter Fuchs is an associate professor in Anglophone Literatures and Cultural Studies at the Department of English and American Studies, University of Vienna.