Flann O’Brien

Literary Birthday – 5 October – Flann O’Brien

Flann O’Brien was born 5 October 1911, and died 1 April 1966.


  1. I saw that my witticism was unperceived and quietly replaced it in the treasury of my mind.
  2. Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they failed to find a suitable existing puppet. The modern novel should be largely a work of reference. Most authors spend their time saying what has been said before – usually said much better. A wealth of references to existing works would acquaint the reader instantaneously with the nature of each character, would obviate tiresome explanations and would effectively preclude mountebanks, upstarts, thimble-riggers and persons of inferior education from an understanding of contemporary literature.
  3. The first beginnings of wisdom…is to ask questions but never to answer any.
  4. If a man stands before a mirror and sees in it his reflection, what he sees is not a true reproduction of himself but a picture of himself when he was a younger man.
  5. A good question is very hard to answer. The better the question the harder the answer. There is no answer at all to a very good question.
  6. Everything is composed of small particles of itself and they are flying around in concentric circles and arcs and segments and innumerable other geometrical figures too numerous to mention collectively, never standing still or resting but spinning away and darting hither and thither and back again, all the time on the go. These diminutive gentlemen are called atoms. Do you follow me intelligently?
  7. Some savage faculty for observation told him that most respectable and estimable people usually had a lot of books in their houses.
  8. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular, and by nature it is interminable, repetitive, and nearly unbearable.
  9. Anybody who has the courage to raise his eyes and look sanely at the awful human condition … must realise finally that tiny periods of temporary release from intolerable suffering is the most that any individual has the right to expect.

One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with. A good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.

Brian O’Nolan was an Irish novelist, playwright and satirist. He was a major figure in 20th century Irish literature. His English language novels, such as At Swim-Two-Birds, and The Third Policeman, were written under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien.

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by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 5th October 2014