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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 23 / 50





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The basement’s existence enables the lowest-order characters to create their own narratives. The cellar quite fittingly houses the remnants of their stories, as these are mostly rather vulgar tales. The Red Swan has a great deal of horizontal space and four vertical layers, like At Swim-Two- Birds. Each of the novel’s narrative planes has a broad scope of satiric targets, or several characters resulting in multiple narrative directions.

The audience is made to piece together the structure of the Red Swan from clues in the narrator’s manuscript: "Trellis stirred feebly in his room in the stillness of the second floor" (41- 2). The Irish method of counting stories is different from the North American one. This foreign method includes a ground floor, and then what we in Canada would normally call the second floor is, for the Irish, the first. By this division of space, Trellis exists on the third of the four floors of the hotel, corresponding to his position in At Swim-Two-Birds. The narrator uses this metaphorical hotel exactly as O’Brien wishes to use it. The narrator has even allowed himself space within the Red Swan, fictionalizing himself. As stated in chapter one, the narrator presents two narratives that can be considered separately from one another. There are both the "biographical reminiscences" and the manuscript which include the Red Swan. These two are presented together as At Swim-Two-Birds, but it is this biographical narrative that exists on the top floor of the Red Swan, as the other narrative layers are accounted for in the lower floors of the hotel.

To further discuss the Red Swan’s structure requires more knowledge of this second narrative level. Although the narrator’s original explanation of his theory of beginnings, that a novel could easily have three or more, focuses on the Puck-like Pooka MacPhellimey, Mr. John Furriskey, and a legendary hero of Ireland, Finn Mac Cool, these are not all included in the same narrative layer. A small note must be made here as to the discrepancy in the spellings of Mac Cool in the following. The narrator is intensely interested in different narrative voices and styles of writing throughout his manuscript, and this is the cause of the different spellings of Finn’s surname. In a heading in his manuscript, the narrator writes in a different tone from that of his characters, and this results in Finn being named Mac Cool; after this, he is referred to as Finn McCool. I will use the spelling that the narrator does at each point that I discuss Finn. Both the Pooka and Furriskey are Trellis’ creations, and the subject of my third chapter. Finn, however, acts as a counterpart to Trellis. In the Red Swan, "There is a cowboy in Room 13 and Mr. McCool, a hero of old Ireland, is on the floor above" (47). Ambiguity creates a problem for the reader at this point. Room 13 may be on either the ground floor or the first floor of the hotel, depending only on how many rooms are located on the ground floor. This means that Finn may have been assigned a room by Trellis on the same floor as Trellis, as all of these characters have been hired and are provided for by Trellis until his novel’s completion. This ambiguity is acceptable, because one soon realizes that Finn is not rooted to any particular narrative level.

While Trellis is an original character composed of various outside influences on the narrator, Finn is a great legendary figure. Lady Gregory records a traditional biography:

he was a king and a seer and a poet; a Druid and a knowledgeable man; and everything he said was sweet-sounding to his people. And a better fighting man than Finn never struck his hand into a king’s hand, and whatever anyone said of him, he was three times better.And of his justice it used to be said, that if his enemy and his son had come before him to be judged, it is a fair judgment he would have given between them. And to his generosity it used to be said, he never denied any man as long as he had a mouth to eat with, and legs to bring away what he gave him; and he left no woman without her bride- price, and no man without his pay; and he never promised at night what he would not


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