Ginger Man follows Sebastian Dangerfield, a young law student from a wealthy American family, as he drops out of Dublin University law school, makes a mess of his early marriage, and drinks his way through the Dublin pubs. Dangerfield is a womanizer ...
The Ginger Man is a novel, first published in Paris in 1955, by J. P. Donleavy. The story is set in Dublin, Ireland, in post-war 1947. Upon its publication, it was banned both in Ireland and the United States of America by reason of obscenity.
James Patrick Donleavy (23 April 1926 – 11 September 2017) was an Irish/American novelist and playwright. His best-known work is the novel The Ginger Man, which was initially banned for obscenity.
Ginger Man follows Sebastian Dangerfield, a young law student from a wealthy American family, as he drops out of Dublin University law school, makes a mess of his early marriage, and drinks his way through the Dublin pubs. Dangerfield is a womanizer whose only ambition is not to work.
Life is not going well for Sebastian Dangerfield, an American in postwar Dublin courtesy of the GI bill of rights, although his posh accent does prove to be of use when seeking credit.
He is attempting to study law at Trinity College, but there are multiple distractions, namely public houses and willing females. He is also married. Rented accommodation never can provide the comforts of home. His wife is not too happy, their baby daughter seems to cry most of the time, there is no money to be had and the unabashedly sexist Dangerfield, ever on the run from his mounting debts, is always in need of a drink. Welcome to one man’s not-so-private hell.
The Ginger Man, JP Donleavy’s classic sub-Joycean, highly visual novel has reached its 60th birthday without ever having relinquished the affections of its many devoted readers. It caused quite a bit of fuss in its day, not least in its battle to get published, which is explained in a comprehensive article by Colin Overall on the Irish Times website. Yet Donleavy, like his hero, fought on. Dangerfield has endured, surviving all that alcohol, cavalier treatment of indulgent women, those brawls, those frustrations and the rampaging litany of hope and despair that races through his heated mind.
Early in the third-person narrative, which frequently darts and drifts, like a shadow boxer, into a near-hallucinatory stream of consciousness, comes the most telling exchange in the book: Dangerfield, having privately decided that he’s “a mortician and too busy to die”, puts a question to his bewildered English wife, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “Marion,” he asks, “do you ever think of death?” Her response is a simple denial. But Dangerfield is insistent; he rephrases the question: “Marion, do you ever think you’re going to die?” As she is preoccupied with the squalor of her daily existence, she replies, unsurprisingly, “I say, Sebastian, would you mind awfully stopping that sort of talk. You’re in that nasty mood.” He presses on: “I just asked you about death. Want to know how you feel, really get to know you. Or maybe you think this is forever.”
Dangerfield is an unlikely man of action – or, rather, he is a man of unlikely actions: when he needs to escape the police he can run. Considering that it is a fluidly flamboyant comic picaresque, the prevailing mood of The Ginger Man in general, and of Dangerfield in particular, is one of melancholy. He is consummately unhappy, waiting for the money from home that he believes will free him:
“Sebastian passing the cream, smiling and waving his feet from the edge of the bed. Letting his body fall with a squeal of springs and looking at the patches of pink in the ceiling. Marion a bit upset and confused. Difficult for her. She was breaking. Isn’t as strong as me, led a sheltered life. Maybe she shouldn’t have married me. Matter, all of it, of time. Pumping it around and around and around, air in, air out and then it all goes like the shutters of a collapsing house. Starts and ends in antiseptic smell. Like to feel the end would be like closing leaves of honeysuckle, pressing out a last fragrance in the night but that only happens to holy men. Find them in the morning with a smile across the lips and bury them in plain boxes. But I want a rich tomb of Vermont marble in Woodlawn Cemetery, with automatic sprinkler and evergreens . . .” Heart attack It is a wonder that the frenetic Dangerfield does not have a heart attack. But he appears to have the constitution of an elephant. His pal Kenneth O’Keefe sums it all up when he says, “You just sail dream boats. You think because you were born rich you’re going to stay that way.” Dangerfield has been betrayed by the sense of entitlement that is the only thing he knows.
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