This book investigates how Irish cultural debate informed O'Nolan's early fiction and journalism, in both Irish and English. It offers the first thorough assessment of his work in its Irish context, arguing that his self-reflexive comic writing betrays a crisis of literary identity that is rooted in the cultural dynamics of post-Independence Ireland. Where previous studies have concentrated on the early novels, presenting him as an experimental writer who precociously anticipated the discoveries of later literary theory, this book instead explores his broad-ranging humour (as novelist and newspaper columnist) in its cultural contexts. What emerges from this fresh perspective is an original portrait of O'Nolan as a writer whose work was at once in conflict with, and wholly indebted to, the charged cultural politics of the new state.This is the first book to thoroughly combine both aspects of his literary career, illuminating how his episodic novels relate to the journalism which he wrote throughout his life.
It demonstrates how his recurrent preoccupation with the persona and role of the author was as much shaped by the difficult position of the Irish writer in the 1930s and 1940s as it was by literary modernism. Each chapter within this book focuses on a different aspect of O'Nolan's multi-faceted career, charting his development from a playful literary humorist to a peculiarly astute cultural critic. This is the first book to demonstrate in detail what O'Nolan's varying blend of parody, satire and surreal humour owed to the peculiar cultural climate of the mid twentieth-century Ireland. By exploring the links between comedy and culture, it exposes the humorist's curiously ambivalent response to the culture of the new state, and particularly to the position of the writer within it.