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"Treating the Literary Literally:" The Reflexive Structure of Flann O’Brien’s ... - page 32 / 50





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being a factor in its creation. Trellis is highly attracted to his created beauty, who is literally the woman of his dreams, and the evil intentions that Trellis hoped Furriskey would act out appear in his own personality.

Trellis has now crossed into uncharted territory; in his literary experience it seems that this type of behaviour is unrecorded, or at least never admitted to by other authors. Trellis has had sex with one of his own creations, a strange form of incest. What complicates the matter even further for Trellis, and will eventually result in his near-death, is that Sheila Lamont is impregnated through this attack. Now Trellis is faced with the birth of what turns out to be a son who is half fiction and half reality. Trellis’ son is made of the stuff of two different narrative planes. Even though the characters from these different narrative levels can coexist at this lower level of At Swim-Two-Birds, cross-breeding between creator and character is truly problematic for the narrator, who must find a way to describe the outcome of this pregnancy, and very troublesome for Trellis, who has now become a character in his own fiction. Trellis has taken over the villain’s role in his own novel. While Furriskey is too honourable to commit any of the offences demanded of him by Trellis, simply telling him that his duties as villain have been carried out, Trellis has unexpectedly performed Furriskey’s role for a short time. This is something that will be impossible to hide within the world of his novel, as the characters are sentient beings within the Red Swan and surrounding areas. While Trellis is asleep, the other characters will be free to discuss this surprising offence by their author without repercussions. The result will be a highly vengeful son who will write a revenge plot in the next lower narrative level.

At Swim-Two-Birds’ narrator has his creativity stretched to the limit by the need to reconcile Trellis’ half-caste son with his manuscript’s structure. The difficulties that arise from Trellis’s actions prove too much for even the self-assured narrator. In a "Note on Constructional or Argumentative Difficulty" (206), the narrator explains that

The task of rendering and describing the birth of Mr. Trellis’s illegitimate offspring I found one fraught with obstacles and difficulties of a technical, constructional, or literary character--so much so, in fact, that I found it entirely beyond my powers. This latter statement follows my decision to abandon a passage extending over eleven pages touching on the arrival of the son and his sad dialogue with his wan mother on the subject of his father, the passage being, by general agreement, a piece of undoubted mediocrity. (206)

The narrator is baffled by how to present this strange turn of events. While discussing it afterwards with friends, they seem to have ideas that could have cleared up the problem, but the narrator is already far beyond that point in his manuscript. They suggest that Sheila might take her own life, thereby foregoing any problems of the physical result of Trellis’ and Sheila’s encounter. The narrator uses a rather dull excuse, that Trellis was by this time so entirely under the influence of Furriskey’s drugging that he "was paying less and less attention to his literary work" (207). This answer, the narrator was "glad to say, gave instant satisfaction and was represented as ingenious by at least one of the inquirers concerned" (207). This also allows the narrator’s wild tale to continue, as the lowest order narrative is dominated by Trellis’ offspring and proves an example of the worst results of ignoring the narrator's belief in authorial responsibility.

The narrator freely admits his problems in describing the physical attributes of Orlick, as this is one of the most basic questions one will have after an union between real and fictional


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