Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds: the Author at the Bar

  • Antonio Bibbò University of Genova
Keywords: Metafiction, Flann O'Brien, Characters, Animals, Modernism, Narrative Democracy


In At Swim-Two-Birds an author is summoned to stand trial for his despotism.  Dermot Trellis rapes one of his characters and is therefore overthrown in a “narrative coup” by his very characters. The leader of the rebels is his illegitimate son, along with a cohort of characters from either this or other novels.

The protest reveals an examination of literary devices that not only does  expose to ridicule narrative conventions – e.g. the surprising testimony of a cow strikingly voices the clash between story time and discourse time – but most importantly brings forward the need for an ethical stance in even the most apparently escapist literary works. Relying on recent narratological studies on metafiction (Linda Hutcheon’s and Patricia Waugh’s) and on literary characters, I will show that the characters’ revolt as well as their courtroom performance can be seen as an accusation levelled against fictional and social hierarchies. Moreover, I will argue that the abrupt and ambivalent ending of the story accounts for the writer’s need to mediate between the author’s and the characters’ stances in order to keep the novel together.


Download data is not yet available.


Alter, Robert, Partial Magic: The Novel as a Self-Conscious Genre, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1975.

Booker, Keith, O’Brien, Bakhtin, and Menippean Satire, New York, Syracuse UP, 1995.

Clissmann, Anne, Flann O’Brien. A critical introduction to his writings. The Story-Teller’s Book-Web, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1975.

Culler, Jonathan, Structuralist Poetics, Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.

Kiberd, Declan, Inventing Ireland, London, Vintage Books, 1996.

Forster, Edward Morgan, Aspects of the Novel (1927), Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1963.

Genette ,Gerard, Figures III. Discourse du récit, Paris, Seuil, 1972.

Linda Hutcheon, Narcissistic Narratives. The Metafictional Paradox, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1980.

Muir, Edwin, The Structure of the Novel, London, Chatto and Windus, 1928.

na Gopaleen, Myles (Flann O’Brien), The Best of Myles, Ed. Kevin O’ Nolan (1968), Normal, London, Dalkey Archive Press, 1999.

O’Brien, Flann, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939), Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967.

O’Shea, Thomas, Flann O’Brien’s Exorbitant Novels, London, Bucknell University Press, 1992.

Pirandello, Luigi, Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (1921), Id., Maschere Nude, Ed. Alessandro d'Amico, Meridiani Mondadori, 1997 (seconda edizione), II.

Saint-Gelais, Richard, Fictions transfuges. La transfictionnalité et ses enjeux, Paris, Seuil, 2011.

Sarraute, Nathalie, L'Ère du soupçon, Paris, Gallimard, 1956.

Stara, Arrigo, L’avventura del personaggio, Firenze, Le Monnier, 2004.

Taaffe, Carol, Ireland Through the Looking-Glass. Flann O’Brien, Myles na gCopaleen and Irish cultural debate, Cork, UP, 2008.

Waugh, Patricia, Metafiction, London, Routledge, 1984.

Woloch, Alex, The One vs. the Many, Princeton and Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2002.

How to Cite
Bibbò, A. (2012). Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds: the Author at the Bar. Between, 2(3). https://doi.org/10.13125/2039-6597/438
Narratives on Law, Narratives in Law