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J(ames) P(atrick) Donleavy Biography

york london press ginger

Nationality: Irish. Born: Brooklyn, New York, United States, 1926; became Irish citizen 1967. Education: A preparatory school, New York; Trinity College, Dublin. Military Service: Served in the United States Naval Reserve during World War II. Awards: London Evening Standard award, for drama, 1961; Brandeis University Creative Arts award, 1961; American Academy award, 1975; Gold award, Houston Worldfest, 1993; Cine Golden Eagle award.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

The Ginger Man. Paris, Olympia Press, and London, Spearman, 1955; New York, MacDowell Obolensky, 1958; complete edition, London, Corgi, 1963; New York, Delacorte Press, 1965.

A Singular Man. Boston, Little Brown, 1964; London, Bodley Head, 1964.

The Saddest Summer of Samuel S. New York, Delacorte Press, 1966;London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1967.

The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B. New York, Delacorte Press, 1968; London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1969.

The Onion Eaters. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Eyre andSpottiswoode, 1971.

A Fairy Tale of New York. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Eyre Methuen, 1973.

The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman. New York, DelacortePress, 1977; London, Allen Lane, 1978.

Schultz. New York, Delacorte Press, 1979; London, Allen Lane, 1980.

Leila. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Allen Lane, 1983.

DeAlfonce Tennis: The Superlative Game of Eccentric Champions: Its History, Accoutrements, Conduct, Rules and Regimen. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984; New York, Dutton, 1985.

Are You Listening Rabbi Löw. London, Viking, 1987; New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988.

That Darcy, That Dancer, That Gentleman. London, Viking, 1990;New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991.

The History of the Ginger Man. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1994.

Short Stories

Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule. Boston, Little Brown, 1964;London, Bodley Head, 1965.

Uncollected Short Stories

"A Friend" and "In My Peach Shoes," in Queen (London), 7 April1965.

"Rite of Love," in Playboy (Chicago), October 1968.

"A Fair Festivity," in Playboy (Chicago), November 1968.

"A Small Human Being," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 16 November 1968.

Plays

The Ginger Man, adaptation of his own novel (produced London andDublin, 1959; New York, 1963). New York, Random House, 1961; as What They Did in Dublin, with The Ginger Man: A Play, London, MacGibbon and Kee, 1962.

Fairy Tales of New York (produced Croydon, Surrey, 1960; London, 1961; New York, 1980). London, Penguin, and New York, Random House, 1961.

A Singular Man, adaptation of his own novel (produced Cambridge and London, 1964; Westport, Connecticut, 1967). London, Bodley Head, 1965.

The Plays of J.P. Donleavy (includes The Ginger Man, Fairy Tales of New York, A Singular Man, The Saddest Summer of Samuel S). New York, Delacorte Press, 1972; London, Penguin, 1974.

The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, adaptation of his own novel (produced London, 1981; Norfolk, Virginia, 1985).

Radio Play:

Helen, 1956.

Other

The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners, drawings by the author. New York, Delacorte Press, and London, Wildwood House, 1975.

Ireland: In All Her Sins and in Some of Her Graces. London, Joseph, and New York, Viking, 1986.

A Singular Country, illustrated by Patrick Prendergast. Peterborough, Ryan, 1989; New York, Norton, 1990.

The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms: The Chronicle of One of the Strangest Stories Ever to Be Rumored About Around New York. New York, St. Martins Press, 1997.

An Author and His Image: The Collected Shorter Pieces. New York, Viking, 1997.

Wrong Information Is Being Given Out at Princeton. New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 1998.

*

Bibliography:

By David W. Madden, in Bulletin of Bibliography (Westport, Connecticut), September 1982.

Critical Studies:

J.P. Donleavy: The Style of His Sadness and Humor by Charles G. Masinton, Bowling Green, Ohio, Popular Press, 1975; Isolation and Protest: A Case Study of J.P. Donleavy's Fiction by R.K. Sharma, New Delhi, Ajanta, 1983.

* * *

Perhaps because of his transatlantic and multinational character, J.P. Donleavy defies easy classification and suffers from a certain critical neglect. His books blend some of the special literary qualities of all three—American, English, Irish—of his national traditions. He has a typically American zaniness, an anarchic and sometimes lunatic comic sense, mingled with an undertone of despair. He possesses an English accuracy of eye and ear for the look and sound of things, for the subtle determinants of class in appearances and accents, a Jamesian grasp of density of specification. Finally, his novels display an Irish wit, energy, and vulgarity as well as a distinctly Irish sense of brooding and melancholy. Like any Irish writer, he is inevitably compared to Joyce, but in this case the comparison is apt—his tone echoes the comic brevity and particularity of many parts of Ulysses, and his prose style often wanders into Joycean patterns.

Ever since his great success with The Ginger Man, which sometimes seems the template for almost all the later works, Donleavy has followed a sometimes distressing sameness of pattern and subject in his books. Roughly speaking, they are serio-comic picaresques that mix a close attention to verifiable reality with an increasingly outrageous sense of fantasy. Although the fantasy is always strongly sexual—and Donleavy writes about sex with refreshingly carnal gusto—-it also dwells on the sensuousness, perhaps even the eroticism of all materiality. When he sinks his teeth into the dense texture of life, Donleavy imparts an almost sexual appetite to his prose, glorying in the things of this world to the virtual exclusion of all else. He writes with the same zest about such matters as gentlemen's clothing, wines, liquor, food, tobacco, women's bodies, the interior and exterior decorations of luxurious homes, all the lovingly itemized concretions that represent the good life. In his most recent novels, like Schultz and its successor, Are You Listening Rabbi Löw, Donleavy records, with no diminution in his sense of awe, the dithyrambic praise of the appetitive view of life as fully, comically, and joyously as in The Ginger Man.

Because of the basic similarity of characters, events, style, and structure in his books, they often seem initially a mere continual rewriting of the first and most famous novel. They pile, often rather randomly, episode upon outrageous episode, repeat the scenes of sex, of comic violence, of pratfalls and ridicule in the same fragmented sentences, and often appear to run out of steam rather than end. Few of his books possess a real sense of closure: the protagonist most often is left, like the Ginger Man, suspended midway between triumph and ignominy, humor and sadness, still completely himself but also touched by defeat and despair. Their constant, most powerful note is elegiac—the protagonist may continue on his crazy way but he inevitably recognizes the most final and undeniable fact of all, the fact of death. The last perception of Sebastian Dangerfield in The Ginger Man is a vision of horses: "And I said they are running out to death which is with some soul and their eyes are mad and teeth out." In The Destinies of Darcy Dancer, Gentleman and its sequels, Leila and That Darcy, That Dancer, That Gentleman, the fox hunt, which runs throughout the books, provides Dancer with the metaphors of mortality—"Till the Huntsman's blowing his long slow notes. Turn home. At end of day."

Schultz and Are Your Listening Rabbi Löw mix the perception of death with a jaunty, life-loving energy in a broader comic style than most of Donleavy's other works, as if the only solution to the perception of mortality is the relentless pursuit of physical gratification. The Jewish theatrical producer Schultz, who tries to succeed among the aristocratic sharks of London, is Donleavy's version of the Jamesian innocent American abroad. The books make their protagonist the butt of dozens of jokes but also the lovable scoundrel whose lunatic schemes somehow rescue him from his own preposterous ambitions and land him, rather shakily, on his feet. Like Darcy Dancer, he concludes his second, though perhaps not final, appearance with the achievement of a sort of stasis—rich, successful, and loved, he cruises on a yacht with a beautiful, brilliant, and mad daughter of the British aristocracy.

His latest books suggest that Donleavy may be on the one hand simultaneously running out of energy and ideas, and on the other, attempting to bring his seemingly endless episodes to completion. In both That Darcy, That Dancer, That Gentleman and Are You Listening Rabbi Löw Darcy Dancer and Schultz ultimately achieve a state of apparent repose. With Donleavy, of course, one can never be fully sure; as his character Schultz realizes, "if you can balance on top, you can not only scratch your fanny but touch the moon. But don't count on anything."

Like all good comic writers, Donleavy grounds his vision in a dark view of the world; amid all his embracing vitality lurks a perception of the desperate need for comedy. His art derives from that perception—under the fully realized surfaces of life lie fear, guilt, and the dread of death. His books quite properly partake of the three national traditions with which he has associated himself; all three converge in his mixture of solemnity and humor and in the same mixture of resolution and disintegration that so often forms his conclusions. In his comic mode Donleavy is sometimes uproariously funny, sometimes brilliantly witty, sometimes just plain silly; often touched by a surprising melancholy, hedonistically devouring life but haunted by death, his novels end, at best, in a resounding "if." You may touch the moon, but don't count on anything.

—George Grella

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