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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 28 / 50





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Chapter Four

At Swim-Two-Birds’ third narrative layer, Dermot Trellis’ novel, is packed with characters and includes several different narrative lines. What makes this level even more busy is that the narrator attempts to display all of his concerns about writing fiction through Trellis’ novel and Trellis’ process of creation. Just as Finn is used to support the narrator’s theory through his speech against abusive authors, the entire third narrative plane is used to physically illustrate the narrator’s theory. Besides Trellis’ writing and use of characters, there is the equally important response to Trellis from his characters. Trellis’ characters are all as sentient as Finn is, and the reader is confronted by their work as literary characters in this third narrative layer.

Once again, the reader is shown a reflexive author creating a work of fiction quite similar to the text that this author is a character in. Trellis has many similarities to his creator, as has been explained above, but Trellis also reflects the narrator’s goals for his literary experiments. The narrator explains to Brinsley the position that Trellis takes on the state of society, and how Trellis’ novel will address this:

Trellis ... is writing a book on sin and the wages attaching thereto. He is a philosopher and a moralist. He is appalled by the spate of sexual and other crimes recorded in recent times in the newspapers--particularly in those published on Saturday night. (47)

Obviously, Trellis hopes to write a socially-conscious report on society as he sees it. There is, however, one concern brought up by Brinsley: "Nobody will read the like of that" (47); this has been anticipated by the narrator, and a solution has been provided for Trellis’ circulation woes:

Trellis wants this salutary book to be read by all. He realizes that purely a moralizing tract would not reach the public. Therefore he is putting plenty of smut into his book. There will be no less than seven indecent assaults on young girls and any amount of bad language. (47)

The narrator is setting Trellis up for a fall that will prove the narrator’s views on the use of characters in the modern novel. This judgment of society, displayed by the fact that no readership could be found for a moral essay in the narrator’s Dublin, is a further point of satire; the narrator uses Trellis’ subject matter to satirize the narrator’s own world.

Following the narrator’s literary theory, Trellis collects his characters from an assortment of sources: "Most of them are characters used in other books, chiefly the works of another great writer called Tracy" (47). William Tracy is a famous contemporary of Trellis. What is interesting to point out is that not only is Tracy a fictional author created by O’Brien within the grand scheme of the novel, but that Tracy is actually the narrator’s creation. The narrator hopes to illustrate his theory of borrowing characters within his manuscript, but then invents the author that is being borrowed from. While Trellis’ traits are in many instances taken from the narrator’s life and his Conspectus, Tracy is entirely fictional. No source is shown for the narrator’s invention of him, most likely because he is a non-character of sorts. Tracy only appears in second-hand terms, during conversations between his former characters. Tracy is also dead before the events of Trellis’ book take place. It would have been just as easy for the narrator to use one of the real authors that he has already mentioned, as Tracy’s characters could be replaced with any mundane and vulgar group, but the possibility of legal action must deter him. This is another flaw in the narrator’s theory; one requires permission in both the narrator’s and O’Brien’s


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