J. P. Donleavy


Life
1926- [John Patrick]; b. 23 April, Brooklyn, NY [var. 25rd]; son of Irish-born orchard keeper and fireman; raised in Woodlawn, bordering on Westchester district; US Navy wartime experience; studied zoology at TCD on the GI Bill, 1946; held one-man exhib. at Prentice Gallery, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 1948; member of the so-called “Catacombs” grouping, with Behan and Cronin; met the legendary American Gainor Crist, also visiting Dublin on the G.I. Bill, later to become the hero of The Ginger Man (1955) in the guise of Sebastian Dangerfield;
 
dropped out of TCD to write the novel, living for three years in near-penury in a cottage nr. Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow where he kept hens; met Patrick Kavanagh and at first treated “phoney” on account of rural-farmer pretensions; Behan enthuses about The Gingerman (‘That book you’ve written contains some of the finest writing I’ve ever seen and when it’s published is going to reverberate around the world’) and suggests MS changes while recruiting Sam White of Evening Standard to place it with Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press [Traveller’s Companion series]; The Gingerman rejected as obscene by US publishers, 1952;
 
returned to America to revise The Gingerman, 1953; back in Ireland with his wife Valerie, 1955; issued The Gingerman (1955), which remained banned in Ireland for 20 years; became embroiled in long-term litigation with Girodias, 1955, culminating with Donleavy’s take-over of the firm in c.1980; purchased a two-storey flat on Brougham Rd., Fulham, with his wife; a Dublin stage performance withdrawn after clerical pressure, 1959; issued film script, What They Did in Dublin with the Ginger Man (1961); subsequently issued Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. (1968), a picaresque novel dealing with Irish student-days;
 
divorced and remarried to Mary Wilson Price, 1969 - with whom two children, Rebecca and Rory - later alleged to have been fathered by Kieran and Finn members of the the Guinness family, the latter of whom she settled with; moved to Ireland and purchased 35-acre Balsoon House, nr. Bective, co. Meath; issued and The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman (1977), set in the Irish midlands; sold Balsoon House and moved to 170-acre Levington Park, overlooking Lough Owel, co. Westmeath, 1972; became an Irish citizen, purchasing a country house nr. Mullingar; issued The History of the Ginger Man (1994), an autobiography;
 
issued The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms (1997), a novel featuring Jocelyn Guenevere Marchantiere Jones, denuded of husband, children, and fortune, but not of spirit; also An Author and His Image (Viking), collection of journalism; Wrong Information is Being Given Out at Princeton (1998), saga of Stephen O’Kelly’O, penniless composer and womaniser; a retrospective exhibition of his paintings and drawings held in Molesworth Gallery, Jan. 2006; Donleavy featured on Desert Island Discs [BBC4] in 2007; received Lifetime Achievement Award at Irish Book Awards, Nov. 1015; his novel The Gingerman said to be the subject of a film production featuring Johnny Depp. DIL OCAL OCEL OCIL

... Out to lunch?
Sunday lunch at Weirs bar-restaurant in Multifarnham, Co. Westmeath, was spiced up by the appearance of JP Donleavy and his son Philip with guests Cillian Murphy and Johnny Depp. It looks as if Depp is interested in adapting The Ginger Man to the screen. A news-report on the event written by journalist Una D’Arcy in the online Westmeath Examiner aroused enough attention to crash the website.
—See Irish Times report of 4 Nov. 2013 - online.

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Works
  • The Ginger Man (Olympia 1955; US 1958; Penguin 1968); another edn., with intro. by Arland Ussher (London: Spearman 1956), xi, 292pp., and Do. [another edn.] (London: Transworld Publishers 1963), 347pp.;
  • What They Did in Dublin with the Ginger Man (MacGibbon & Kee 1961);
  • Fairy Tales of New York (1973), play;
  • A Singular Man (Bodley Head 1963; Penguin 1966), novel;
  • The Saddest Summer of Samuel S. (1966; Penguin 1968);
  • The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. (1968; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1970), all dramatised by the author;
  • also The Onion Eaters (NY 1971), surrealistic;
  • Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gent. (1977), picaresque;
  • Schultz (1979; Penguin 1979), American farce set in England;
  • Collected stories Meet My Maker, the Mad Molecule (1964; Penguin 1967);
  • The Unexpurgated Code (1975), parody on etiquette books;
  • Leila (NY Franklin Library 1983);
  • Are You Listening, Rabbi Law (London 1987);
  • A Singular Country (Ryan 1989), 198pp. [ded. ‘to all who dare to come to the stern but irresistable land and then dare to stay [and] to Connor Stephen Crist of Dayton, Ohio];
  • with Tony Hawkins, Vengeance!: A Passport Anthology, No. 6 (1993).;
  • The History of the Ginger Man (London: Viking 1994), 517pp.;
  • The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms: The Chronicle of One of the Strangest Stories Every To Be Rumoured About Around New York (NY: Little, Brown 1997), 119pp., and Do. [pb. edn.] (Abacus 1998), 125pp.;
  • An Author and His Image: The Collected Short Pieces (London: Viking), 308pp. [journalism];
  • Wrong Information is Being Given Out at Princeton (NY: Little Brown 1998), 237pp.
See also articles by Donleavy cited in David Seed, 1991 [infra].

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Criticism
  • K. Jacobsen, interview with J. P. Donleavy in Journal of Irish Literature, 8 (January 1978). Patrick
  • Thomas Le Clair, ‘A Case of Death: The Fiction of J. P. Donleavy, in Contemporary Literature, 11 (Summer 1979);
  • Dean Coen, ‘The Evolution of Donleavy’s Hero’, Critique, 12 (1971), pp.95-100;
  • M. F. Schulz, Black Humor in Fiction of the Sixties (Ohio UP 1973);
  • interview with McKaughan, , Paris Review, 63 [‘The Art of Fiction’. 53](Fall 1975) [p.159];
  • Donald E. Morse, ‘From Heaven to Hell: Ireland in the Novels of J.P. Donleavy’, in Literary Interrelations: Ireland, England and the World, ed. Wolfgang Zach & Heinz Kosok, Vol. III: National Images and Stereotypes (Tübingen: Guntar Narr Verlag, 1987), pp.217-22;
  • Patrick W. Shaw, ‘The Satire of J. P. Donleavy’s Ginger Man’, in Studies in Contemporary Satire, 12 (1985): pp.22-26 [var. 1.2, 1975, pp.9-16].
  • Skene Catling, review of The History of the Ginger Man, in The Irish Times (4 Jun 1994) [details as biog. supra];

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Commentary
David H. Greene: ‘Have you read The Ginger Man yet? Frank O’Connor told me the other night that he has been arguing about it with Dan Binchy. Binchy things [sic] Miss Frost is a splendid character but that the rest of the book is mere pornography. Frank natually disagrees. I can’t understand myself how a young Amercan could have written so typically Irish a book.’ (Unpublished Letter to Sybil Le Brocquy, headed New York State University, 16 Dec. 1969.)

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David Seed, ‘Parable of Estrangement, The Fiction of J. P. Donleavy’, in Irish Writing, Exile and Subversion, ed. Paul Hyland & Neil Sammells (Macmillan 1991), pp.209-23: Seed refers to The Unexpurgated Code (1975) as a spoof etiquette book; donleavy calls Henry Miller ‘then literally a private god’, in the 1950s; Sebastian Dangerfield makes a virtue out of mercurial character and masks, contrition, pompous outrage, gentleman; proves to be an updated version of the picaro; always has an ulterior end in view; short-circuits reader’s disapproval by presenting his actions in comic light; praised by Saul Bellow as ‘free-wheeling rascal and chaser [who] presents himself with wickedly comic effect as an ultra-respectable citizen with an excellent credit rating, one who doesn’t know what it is to hock other people’s property for the price of a drink, the gentlemanly sack-artist’ (‘Some Notes on Recent American Fiction’, Encounter, 21 (1963); Heller recorded the shock of reading the Gingerman when preparing Catch-22, ‘Oh my God, there’s Yossarian’ (RB Sale, interview with Heller, Studies in the Novel, 1 (1979). [Cont.]

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David Seed (‘[...] The Fiction of J. P. Donleavy’, 1991) - cites Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B (1968), second novel to use Irish setting, has two protagonist personifying sacred and profane approaches to love; Balthazar, passive saint, associates orgasm with extinction; The Onion Eaters (1971) concerns Clayton Clementine who comes into possession of Charnel Castle, set in an unspecified part of the Irish countryside, a neo-feudal domain, his nearest neighbour Lord Macfugger, parody of colonial soldier bent on ‘rogering’; a veritable temple of flesh; Ireland functioned as refuge for Donleavy, though J P Donleavy’s Ireland (1968) set the full complexity of his relation to that country on record; imagination initially fired by film of O’Flaherty’s The Informer; further whetted during naval service by encouragement to read Joyce; the Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman (1977) stays in the hero’s place of birth, Andromeda Park in the Irish midlands; manorial idyll of order which is never quite achieved; tries to step into role of squire before he has reached his majority; knockabout comedy; series of type figures (peasant boor, IRA gunman, public-school bully); driven off estate by his father, compelled to invent new identities to survive; acts as stable-boy; wins luckily at Leopardstown; Leila (1983), sequel revamping same characters; she becomes object of Dancer’s erotic yearnings; both novels grow out of Donleavy’s new acceptance of Ireland and his adoption of the life-style of squire. [Bibl. as supra]. Bibl., ‘Writers and Money, Traumas of the Writing Trade’, Saturday Review (15 April 1978, p.67; [q.t.,] in Atlantic Monthly (Dec. 1976), p.37, rep. as ‘An Expatriate View of America’, in The Times (8 Jan. 1977), pp.6-7, and Do. (15 Jan. 1977), pp.8-9.

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Phil Baker, in Times Literary Supplement (24 June 1994), backpage [p.36], writes: ‘The History of the Ginger Man is a partial autobiography focused on Donleavy’s struggle to publish The Ginger Man and find recognition and riches’; gives account of Gainor Crist up to his death in Tenerife; includes lively Behan material; Crist and Donleavy ‘reinvented’ themselves as Anglo-Irish gentlemen, blessed with the patrician accents one sometimes hears in pre-war American movies; this is the world in embryo of Donleavy’s overlooked by central book, The Unexpurgated Code, his satirical manual of Survival Manners which contains useful tips for dealing with hoi polloi as well as with persons heartless enough to question one’s own credentials; quotes Donleavy’s meditations on riding a train in NY and peering at ‘anonymous apartment house windows ... into all the chocolate coloured boarding rooms into which failure could sentence you’; the History prints two pieces on the theme of fish eating each other, not published, but explanatory of an episode in Beastly Beautitudes with Uncle Edouard at the eel tank; oasis-like moments of politeness and civility; reports Behan as having said to him, ‘you’ve got an awful reputation in Dublin as being quick to take offence ... no one will go near you ... upon a dirty look you’d be hammering a man to the ground before he even had a decent chance to get a gun out of his pocket.’ Of the Girodias/Olympia press affair, Baker notes: ‘He still owns the defunct Olympia Press, and he has the unforgiving attitude of a man who would plough Carthage with salt. Manners or no manners, Donleavy is not someone one would want to be oon the wrong side of, you can take the boy out of the Bronx [...&c].

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Patrick Skene Catling, reviewing John de St Jorre, The Good Ship Venus: The Erotic Voyage of Olympia Press (Hutchinson 1994), in The Irish Times (3 Sept. 1994), writes that Maurice Girodias emerges as a generally contemptible character [who] specialised in DBs (dirty books), making it easier to understand the vengeful indignation that Donleavy expressed at length in his recently published The History of the Gingerman [&c.].

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Mary Kenny, reviewed by An Author and his Image: The Collected Short Pieces (London: Viking), in Magill (Oct. 1997), defends Donleavy as ‘vivid and droll’ and remarks that the ‘critics and academics will always reject what is truly originally [sic], for what they are always seeking to repeat the last success’; comments, ‘it struck me - though it is hardly an original thought - that authentic male erotic prose has alomost got to be male chauvinist: all that talk of mounting and rogering celebrates, even in its absurdity, the rutting male. The priapic is fundamenally phallic triumphalism. Were he to begin his career today, I fancy that Mr Donlevy [sic] would have more trouble with the feminist literarcy police than he ever had with Archbishop John Charles McQuaid./He is tender about Ireland, funnily observant about Dublin, and carries a torch of dedication for C. J. Haughey’.

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Ellen Beardsley, notice on The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms (NY: Little, Brown 1997), 119pp.; Joy Jones - b. Joceylyn Guenevere Marchantière Jones), Scarsdale socialite and divorcee trying to ‘get a grip’; starts reading seriously; seeks out best rest rooms and finds them in Central Park funeral parlours; narrative hindered by syntactic awkwardness.

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Patrick Skene Catling, reviewing The Author and His Image, in Irish Times (?30 Aug. 1997), remarks on final notice in which Donleavy characterises himself as ‘rattling around in a big old house [...] often bereft, lonely, and having again and again been left in the lurch by one beautiful woman after another’; advertises for ‘pleasantly attractive younger lady of principle with bent for flower arranging and entertaining’, adding ‘remuneration modest, food and wine plentiful’; full length port in ‘Richard Harris’ coat.

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Alex Ivanovitch, Times Literary Supplement (10 April 1998), writes: Stephen O’Kelly O’, the narrator, has ‘a slight impediment in the use of English’ by his own account, though people who meet him call him ‘pedantic’; considered ‘trying’ by reviewer; clumsy floridity; hero’s resemblance to Rudolph Valentino; marries Syvlia, an heiress whose parents disappoint him in the matter of an endowment; gets erection in fron of mother in law and pisses himself several times; post war New York; unengaging piece of whimsy slightly redeemed by sense of place. (p.23.)

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Brendan Glacken, reviewing Donleavy’s Ireland, in All the Sins and Graces series (Network 2), in Irish Times (29 Dec 1992), quotes:‘An Irishman can always see both sides of an argument, provided it will lead to a fight’; ‘it is impossible in Ireland, if you’re alive, not to be somebody – and even if you’re dead, your ghost will be made a place for at the races.’ Much use of aerial photography.

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John Armstrong, Fine Arts [report], in The Irish Times , 7 Jan. 2006): J. P. Donleavy, b. April 1926; held one man exhib. at Prentice Gallery, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 1948, while a student at Trinity; dismissed by Irish Times critics by praised by Arland Ussher, who compared his work to Klee; enlisted in US Navy 1944; entered TCD on GI Bill; fellow student Gainor Crist, inspiration of Sebastian Dangerfield (the Gingerman); rejected by US publisher on grounds of obscenity, 1952; published by Olympia Press, 1955, in Traveller’s Companion series (pornography) to the disappointment of the author who expected hoped to see it in Collection Merlin (a series incl. Beckett and Henry Miller); Behan said, ’This book of yours will go round the world and beat the bejaysus out of the Bible’; sold 50 million copies in more than 20 languages; lived in US during early 1950s; later in London, writing and painting; returned to Ireland to avail of tax-free scheme, 1969;p exbibition of his work in Molesworth Gallery, incls. oils dating from 1940s and 1950s, with 70 watercolours, sketches and recent work; a port. of Donleavy by Robert Ballagh included in exhibition.

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Quotations

‘When I die I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it served in all the pubs in Dublin.’ (Quoted in Irish Culture and Customs, online - 23.03.2010.)


American in Ireland]: ‘O]nes account and tolerant outlook allowed one to assume alliances on nearly every religious and political side and enjoy a congenial fraternity right up and down the rungs of the jealousy guarded Irish social ladder. An American could also identify when necessary, or pleasant, with the British ruling class, or the Anglo-Irish, or the Dublin suburban upper, or slum lower, or working class.’ (J. P. Donleavy’s Ireland, Michael Joseph 1968, p.124.)

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Stepping back: ‘There comes the slow but sure alienation, a stepping back and apartness from the world around you. For the born writer this has happened years ago, when this girl friend or mother in law said he had a dirty disgusting mind’ (Donleavy, ‘Writers and Money, Traumas of the Writing Trade’, Saturday Review (15 April 1978, p.67.)

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King of Cities: ‘[E]xcept for my first twenty years in the King of Cities, New York, I have been an alien everywhere for most of my life.’ (Donleavy, in Atlantic Monthly, Dec. 1976, p.37.) rep. in The Times as ‘An Expatriate View of America’, 8 Jan. 1977, pp.6-7, and 15 Jan. 1977, pp.8-9. All cited by Seed, ‘Parable of Estrangement’, in Hyland and Sammells (op. cit., 1991), pp.218-19.

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References
Oxford Companion to American Literature (1983), bio-data: Irish parents; The Ginger Man, a lusty comic novel about red-bearded ex-GI [Bill] and the grubby life that he and his wife lead in Ireland and London; dramatised and produced in England (1961). Oxford Companion to English Literature (ed. Margaret Drabble) adds nothing but the word ‘bawdy’.

Hibernia Books (1996) lists The Ginger Man (Spearman 1955; Paris: Olympia 1958); A Singular Man (Bodley Head 1964). Hyland (Cat. 224) lists Leila [Franklin Library] (1983) [ltd. edn.].

J. P. Donleavy Compendium”, maintained by David David L. Hartzheim on Earthnet, contains Biography, Bibliograpy, Interviews, &c. [online].

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Notes
Big House: Christine Case and Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland, North Leinster (Penguin), in the Pevsner architectural series, notes that Levington Hall, the home of the eccentric Sir Richard Levinge in Co. Westmeath, is now the home of J. P. Donleavy. Further, Levinge conceived the idea of training grapes so that he could pluck them in his bedroom, and fixing a mirror to the ceiling of his diningroom to enjoy the ‘natural beauties’ of the ladies at the table.

Derek Mahon, “J. P. Donleavy’s Dublin”: ‘When you stop to consider / The days spent dreaming of a future [...] the years, the years / Fly past anti-clockwise / Like clock-hands in a bar mirror.’ (Lives, 1972, p.13).

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Desmond MacNamara, The Book of Intrusions (Illinois: Dalkey Archive Press 1994) is a novel from the author of a biography of de Valera who first appeared as MacDoon in The Ginger Man, is called ‘the Einstein of Irish literature’ by J. P. Donleavy. ‘Ignore Donleavy’, remarks Books Ireland, in “First Flush” notice [q.d.]. (COPAC cites titles on Papier Maché and Puppetry as well as the above.)

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Patrick Kavanagh: ‘The cranky poet Patrick Kavanagh was not initially impressed by farmer Donleavy. J. P. recalled in his 1986 memoir J.P. Donleavy’s Ireland: In All Her Sins And In Some of Her Graces that he was surrounded at Kilcoole by “chickens and scratching a living from the soil which Patrick Kavanagh rightly defined as entitling me to being called a phoney. Kavanagh [was] a small farmer knowing full well that any American could climb aboard an aeroplane and a few hours later, having stood under a hot shower could then sit down to bacon, eggs, sausages, pancakes and maple syrup back in the good old U.S.A.” / Said Kavanagh of Donleavy’s agricultural efforts: “Phoney, phoney, phoney. Utterly phoney. The whole things is phoney. Nothing but phoniness.” / The harsh judgment was delivered by Kavanagh to Donleavy’s face as the two chanced to meet in Dublin at the second-floor editorial offices of Envoy, the literary quarterly edited and published by John Ryan. J. P. writes in his memoir: “I had come to this peasant land with my nice big American pot to piss in. And I laughed outright at his wisdom. But as I left the office of Envoy that day. Still laughing, Kavanagh turned to talk behind my back. ‘That man’s no phoney. Sure if he were he couldn’t laugh at what I said.”’ (See Bill Dunn, the Agrarian Reforms of Organic Farmer J. P. Donleavy, on the “J. P. Donleavy Compendium” website; accessed 07.05.2009].)

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Guinness, Inc.: ‘Now [...] it has emerged that the American-born writer’s second marriage, to actress Mary Wilson Price, was just as colourful as that of the bohemian characters about which he wrote. For the couple’s two children - Rebecca and Rory - are the result of affairs Mary had with two brothers from the Guinness brewing dynasty [...]’ The children were brought up by Finn Guinness in Wiltshire. (See Daily Mail, 17 Aug. 2011; available online - accessed 20.08.2011. Webpage incls. photos of Donleavy with Brendan Behan and Richard Harris.)

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