This chapter takes a look at Brian O'Nolan, who was also known as Flann O'Brien and Myles na Gopaleen in the literary world, introducing each of O'Nolan's literary personas, from the novelist and short-story writer (O'Brien), to the author of the funniest newspaper feature (na Gopaleen). From there the discussion focuses his two main novels, At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman. It notes that At Swim-Two-Birds was written through the second half of the 1930s and that it follows from the early writings of that decade. The Third Policeman, on the other hand, has lesser elements than the other novels, but is considered as more concentrated and serious.
This chapter surveys the absurd present in prose writing of the latter half of the twentieth century, considering the more recent developments in drama and briefly referencing several theoretical, popular and general areas. It starts with a section on Boris Vian, one of the contributors to absurdist theatre and the writer of I Spit on Your Graves, and then identifies a number of American and English-language absurdist novels, including John Fowles's Mantissa and Joseph Heller's Catch-22. The discussion also explores European absurdist prose, such as the works of Roland Topor and Cees Nooteboom, and women absurdist writers. The final part of the chapter discusses Sarah Kane, whose plays deal with human relations and usually involve extreme acts of sexuality and violence, and looks at absurdism in popular culture, thoughts and science.
This concluding chapter summarises the discussion on the four ‘special author’ representatives of absurdism that were presented in previous chapters. It emphasises that the term ‘absurd’ can be applied to literature in three ways, namely: as a prominent period style, as a category with philosophical implications and as a modern reworking of much older works. The chapter also describes how one can study the absurd in literature.
This chapter notes how the book developed and introduces the themes of the study. The project grew largely from comparative and Russian literature, from work on Vladimir Odoevsky. This work developed to involve biographical research, criticism and translation. Such tentative beginnings were driven into some sort of initial focus by an entirely fortuitous invitation from a publisher to supply an introduction to a reprint of a valuable and neglected edition of Odoevsky's ‘Romantic Tales’. The four titular figures introduced here are being used towards an at least partial tracing of certain European literary developments, or ‘pathways’ into modern fiction.
The musical-artistic story from Hoffmann and Odoevsky to Pasternak
This chapter investigates the musical story through Odoevsky's fictional ‘biography’ of Johann Sebastian Bach, and preceding works, particularly in the writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann. It aims to examine an early prose work by Boris Pasternak, his Suboctave Story (written in 1916–17, but first published only in 1977). Pasternak's never quite completed novella, this chapter argues, may be dependent to a considerable extent on Odoevsky's depiction of the young Bach and his creation of musical atmosphere.
This chapter examines the motif of round-the-world flight, and the impact on surrounding society of the quirks of a single life, in Odoevsky's tale The Live Corpse. It is seen to be developed into what purports to be interplanetary flight. The chapter also examines the rise and fall of a civilisation, in Dostoevsky's late story The Dream of a Ridiculous Man. Particulars of such supposed cosmic travel may have been, in part at least, ‘borrowed’ by his successors from Dostoevsky. However this may be, such things are seen to be taken very much further, in twentieth-century English horror and science fiction writing, in key works by William Hope Hodgson and Olaf Stapledon.
This chapter notes early detective fiction in works by Schiller, Hoffmann and Poe, prior to an examination of the figure of the uncle in Odoevsky's The Salamander—this personage here being proposed as a proto-‘psychic doctor’. The discussion considers examples of such a figure, in Anglo-Irish and English literature up to the Edwardian era. It assesses works by Sheridan Le Fanu, Bram Stoker, Algernon Blackwood and, again, Hodgson. Such a protagonist is then seen to recede, in the main into a more parodic treatment. A concluding section notes the reappearance at least of such motifs in recent ‘metaphysical detective’ fiction.
This chapter notes Odoevsky's story The Witness as an important source for certain events in the autobiographical confession of the Elder Zosima in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. it also considers Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed. These three works contribute to a considerably wider ensuing discussion of the ‘confessional’ motif in modern fiction, going back to the Gothic period and extending into the present century.
This chapter looks briefly at some of the ‘pathways’ within, and to, a fairly recent prizewinning novel, published in 1995 and written by a Russian, Andreï Makine, who writes only in French and has been resident in France since 1987. A curiously bi-cultural novel, of a pseudo-autobiographical nature, Le Testament français contains at least traces of the pathways explored in the present study. It also includes, of course, striking features of its own, such as waves which stem from war literature, or from what people might designate the fiction of sadomasochism. Post-war provincial Soviet life doubles, and alternates, with the Paris of la belle époque and an aspiration to revel in and revive a fin de siècle style of French prose. In diverse ways, France links with Russia, as does Siberia with Cherbourg.