Faustus Kelly, by Flann O’Brien

Opening of Act III:

Four weeks later.
The scene is the same save that the room is in a far more advanced state of disorder with posters, stationery, banners, flags and all manner of electioneering paraphernalia. A clock shows that it is about nine in the evening. The curtains are drawn.

MARGARET is sitting disconsolately alone on the sofa, which is facing the audience towards the left of the stage. KELLY is listening on the phone, bending over a small table towards the right. There is complete silence for a few seconds after the curtain goes up.
KELLY: What? What?
(MARGARET sighs and passes her hand wearily across her brow.)
KELLY: (Eagerly.) Yes. Yes, yes! Good, good. Excellent. Yes? (He pauses to listen.)
MARGARET: What does he say?
KELLY: (Holding up his hand to silence her.) Are you sure of that? WHAT? (He listens.) Good! Ring me up later. I SAID RING ME UP LATER! Goodbye!
(He bangs down the phone and turns to MARGARET, gleefully rubbing his hands.)
KELLY: Margaret, Margaret, I’m nearly home and dried. I’m nearly home and dried! (He flops down on the sofa beside her and takes her hand.) I’m nearly home, Margaret.
MARGARET: (Dejectedly.) That’s good news.

I read this as potential education for this year's Retro Hugo Awards; since it ran for 11 performances in the Abbey Theatre, it would have been eligible in one of the Best Dramatic Presentation categories, but it was not at all clear which one. In the end I concluded that it would have been well over 90 minutes in length; the pagecount is somewhat more than Noel Coward's Cavalcade, which was cut from a three-hour stage script to make a film almost two hours in length, and about two thirds that of Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird which was four and a half hours long when first performed. So I reckon Faustus Kelly would take the guts of three hours to perform. However, Hugo voters did not support it in sufficient strength to make tjhis a live issue.

I'm a huge Flann O'Brien fan, but this is not his best work. There are two jokes: the chairman of the local council, Kelly, sells his soul to the Devil, who in turn finds that the ins and outs of local Irish politics are too much for him. And there is the realtionship between Kelly and Margaret, who is clearly his girlfriend, but whose very Anglicised brother retorns from England to fight the election against him. There are a lot of good turns of phrase, but fans will have come across all the best bits elsewhere.

Apparently he was deeply upset by the play's commercial failure, which of course came soon after all the unsold copies of At Swim-Two-Birds were destroyed in a London air-raid and The Third Policeman was rejected by Longmans. Later in 1943, he carried out the most gruelling assignment of his professional career, the inquiry into the Cavan Orphanage fire which took place only a short time after Faustus Kelly closed. Another play also failed in 1943 (Rhapsody in Stephen's Green, an adaptation of the Insect Play by Josef and Karel Čapek). He was fired from the civil service in 1953 and did not publish another book until 1961, by which time the end was in sight.

Anyway, I read this as part of the Plays and Teleplays collection, which you can get here.

One thought on “Faustus Kelly, by Flann O’Brien

  1. the difference between the Russian novels and the UK/Irish novels is that these have already gone through a process of selection. English-language readers only see the novels that have been translated, and all of these would appear on university reading lists.
    Books set in Ireland don’t have those gatekeepers, and so you see any old shite on the list. 🙂

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