Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Irish author Brian O'Nolan's (1911-1966) later career involves multi-media works that in a variety of ways challenge Ireland to be more open to the complications of modernity. These controversial works have too often been dismissed as pedestrian and unsophisticated, though they offer themselves as experiments in different media, involving technologies that were recent developments in Ireland. Looking at his later fiction, journalism, and television writings reveals that O'Nolan continued his commitment to complexity throughout his entire career. O'Nolan's experiments take many forms, including the fragmented identities of Flann O'Brien and Myles na gCopaleen, portraying an author who embraces modernity when many in the country advocated provincial lore. He is open to modernity because he seeks positions among Ireland's emerging modern and nascent provincial voices in multiple narratives. These multiple positions are located in verbal and visual forms, multiple personas, and multiple genres--including new media--where he crosses boundaries of artistic media by including visual representations in his written experiments published and broadcast in new media. I combine Cultural and New Modernist Studies in an approach that labels O'Nolan a "bad" modernist because his multi-media and multi-genre works are precise and premeditated experiments in cosmopolitan as well as regional modernity. Moreover, I contend this "bad" modernist's later works can be reexamined as one form of Ireland's modernist culture, helping to bridge the transition from colony to emerging global power. Chapter one starts with persona Flann O'Brien's last novel, Slattery's Sago Saga (1965-1966), which is an appropriate beginning because its multiple narratives are extended to a broader, transatlantic audience, that of America. The novel also adopts an ambivalent female character that reappears, almost simultaneously, as a straightforward, confident female voice in the multi-episode television series, Th'Oul Lad of Kilsalaher (1965). Since O'Brien's works can be troubled by misogynistic tendencies, studying a later novel that complicates preconceived patterns about women helps readdress criticisms of the writer. Two interchapters also depict O'Brien's diverse experiments and positions in both well-known and obscure locales, anticipating shifts in more refined writings. The first of these analyzes O'Brien's early experiments in visual form, such as cartoons in childhood and college endeavors and doodles in the unpublished, first manuscript of At Swim-Two-Birds. In chapter two, the Cruiskeen Lawn columns, written under the Myles persona, mark a new form of journalism that uses intersections of verbal monologue and found illustrations to form its jokes. This word and image debate is made humorous by old trade magazine illustrations being recycled as new etchings, and this compounds the literary forgery evident throughout O'Nolan's career. Additionally, Myles' new journalism can be considered public art because The Irish Times where the columns are circulated is a natural arena of debate. A second interchapter hints at O'Nolan's part in shaping public thinking while offering his talents for pay. These experimental sketches show the "bad" modernist in O'Nolan when he tries to sell his Myles identity to Irish businesses like the Irish Hospital Sweepstakes, Guinness, and Whiskey Distilleries as a viable brand (a satirist who combines visual material with current and historical events) in the commercial market, even when the archives remain ambiguous. Finally, chapter three focuses on Myles' writings in television, and it is in Th'Oul Lad of Kilasalaher that a confident, modern female voice first emerges in his writing career. I compare his early, full-length television plays, which are often formulaic and transferable to other modern nations, to the multi-episode series, O'Dea's Yer Man and Th'Oul Lad of Kilasalaher, in part to reveal his pioneering role in developing a new form of modernity for Ireland; that he wants them to remain open to independent ideas rather than forcing on them a prevalent and predominant form of modernism. In the epilogue, I compare O'Nolan's modernist experiments to Anne Enright's parallel and contemporary work The Wig My Father Wore (1995).
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