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The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman
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The Various Lives of Keats and Chapman

by Flann O'Brien, Jamie O'Neill (Introduction)
 

"Along with Joyce and Beckett, [Flann O'Brien] constitutes our trinity of great Irish writers. And who is funnier?"

- Edna O'Brien

The cream of Flann O'Brien's comic tour-de-force, the Keats and Chapman stories began in O'Brien's column in the Irish Times. He called them "studies in literary pathology" — monstrously tall tales that explore the very

Overview

"Along with Joyce and Beckett, [Flann O'Brien] constitutes our trinity of great Irish writers. And who is funnier?"

- Edna O'Brien

The cream of Flann O'Brien's comic tour-de-force, the Keats and Chapman stories began in O'Brien's column in the Irish Times. He called them "studies in literary pathology" — monstrously tall tales that explore the very limits of the shaggy dog story. As one critic wrote, they will accumulate the fantasy to the point of sadism, and then cash home with the flat, desolating pun.

"The Brother" is another of O'Brien's funniest creations. He is the archetypal Dublin man — an authority on every one of mankind's ills, from the common cold to the court case. Forget the experts, The Brother knows best.

"The best comic writer I can think of."

- S. J. Perelman

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Newspaper columns and a stage adaptation (The Brother) quilted out of O'Brien's novels make for a merry little patchwork of literary pleasures from the late (d. 1966) comic master (At Swim-Two-Birds, 1939). Jamie O'Neill (whose own 2002 masterpiece he titled At Swim, Two Boys) explains that in 1940, when London publishers roundly rejected The Third Policeman, O'Brien's second novel, the author "turned to journalism" and, over the next 20 years, wrote a column for the Irish Times that, to judge by the 85 short selections here, was dedicated often to the construction of a shaggy-dog sort of tiny tale leading up to the most witty, appalling, groan-worthy, intricate, or inventive pun conceivable. O'Brien (writing as Myles na Gopaleen) often employed his pair of fictional friends, Keats and Chapman (who "met" in the Keats ode on Chapman's Homer), putting them into any variety of situation needed to produce the desired result. Keats, hence, in "Stradivarius," is a violinist whose dog, named Byrne, gets lost. Keats goes on practicing even so. Chapman, "looking in for an after-supper pipe," is surprised at Keats's "composure." Asks Keats: "And why should I not fiddle . . . while Byrne roams?" The delicacy of the writing and delivery is all: synopsized thus, the reader's groan will dominate, but along with the light-footed subtlety and pitch-perfect drollery of O'Brien's setup, even the most awful spoonerism will delight rather than gag, whether "In a pique in Darien," "Please Byrne when Red," or "I'm afraid I put my food in it." In the case of "The Brother," the long monologue adapted by Eamon Morrissey, what steals the show is the voice of an Irish drinking man, who has his own wanderinginventiveness, hyperbole, and fancy: and who, along with his never-seen brother, is in fact being "written," by someone known only as "your man," into stories and situations that-well, that are soulful, sad, absurd, hilarious at once, ending both in laughter and in death. Irish to the gills, a festive delight, and fully aware of what it is-and what it isn't.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312329075
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
03/01/2005
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
192
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 9.18(h) x 0.80(d)

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Meet the Author

Flann O'Brien is the pseudonym of Brian O'Nolan, one of Ireland's great modernists. His novels include At Swim-Two-Birds, The Third Policeman and The Poor Mouth. He died in Dublin, 1966.

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