There’s something Griceian about Donleavy, especially (or specially, as Geary
would prefer) the way he (Donleavy, not Geary) misquotes Popper (or Sir Karl,
if you mustn’t).
One of Donleavy’s classics is: “Wrong Information Is Being Given Out at
Consider that as an utterance
i. Wrong information is given out at Princeton.
In “Studies in the Way of Words,” Grice notes that ‘false information’ is no
information. He possibly (‘He’ being Grice) that ‘misinformation’ is no
information, either – Grice was OBSESSED with information. In “Causal Theory of
ii. That pillar box seems red to me.
is characterised, informally, as being not “as strong as”
iii. That pillar box _is_ red.
Grice’s point being that if one makes a conversational contribution which is
‘weaker’ than it should be, there is an ‘implicature’ to the effect, e.g. that
the utterer is not sure whether the pillar box is red (or not). (He dismisses
this as analysable in terms of ‘information,’ seeing that neither (ii) nor
(iii) entail each other). But back to Donleavy, consider a few Popperian
iv. Misinformation is given out at Princeton.
While Grice mentions ‘false information,’ surely he would have defended an
exercise in linguistic botany here. “False information” is notably different
from (or ‘than’, as Anderson Cooper sadly prefers) ‘wrong information’. So what
does Donleavy implicate. That’s the Popperian question, to echo Hamlet.
Sebastian Dangerfield, the hero of J. P. Donleavy’s picaresque masterwork “The
Ginger Man,” knew how he wanted to exit this world.
"When I die,” he says, “I want to decompose in a barrel of porter and have it
served in all the pubs in Dublin.”
Donleavy was such a fond and riotous writer about drinking that, at word of his
death, more than a few felt like pouring one out for him.
“The Ginger Man” was Donleavy’s first novel.
“The Ginger Man” sits on the Modern Library’s list of the best 100 novels of
the 20th century.
“The Ginger Man” clings to the penultimate rung, No. 99, between James M.
Cain’s “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and Booth Tarkington’s “The Magnificent
This perilous position suits Donleavy.
Donleavy has long been one of literature’s dangling men, a caustic satirist.
In his spectral wit, Donleavy resembles Samuel Beckett.
In his delighted lustiness, Donleavy resembles Henry Miller.
In his damp and scattered wordplay, Donleavy resembles James Joyce.
Donleavy spoke to the past century’s intellectual and moral dislocations.
Like a greased pig, Donleavy eluded critical capture.
You can open to almost any page of “The Ginger Man” and catch the scent of an
authentic literary voice.
There are other scents to catch.
The novel’s hero refuses to bathe because it “kills the personality” (He means
his own – and he has obviously read Grice’s “Personal Identity”).
This “stream-of-consciousness” novel (to use Popper’s favourite phrase – he
claimed that both Joyce and William James loved this – but Popper fails to
distinguish that for the latter it is an empiricist theory of the mind, whereas
for the former, it is a literary technique), which swings between first and
third person, is an existential howl, a plea for more life in one’s life.
“But Jesus,” Donleavy writes in it, “when you do not have any money, the
problem is food."
"When you have money, it is sex."
"When you have both – i.e. food and money --, it is health: you worry about
getting ruptured -- or something."
"If everything is simply jake, you are frightened of death.”
Dorothy Parker reviewed “The Ginger Man” in “Esquire.”
Parker calls Donleavy’s “The Ginger Man” “a rigadoon of rascality, a bawled-out
comic song of sex.”
Hunter S. Thompson likens Donleavy’s “The Ginger Man” to “being dragged into a
beer-brawl in some violent pub.”
Thompson reviewed Donleavy’s second novel, “A Singular Man” in The National
Thomson admired one cruel, comic scene in particular, which reads like
Nathanael West by way of “A Clockwork Orange.”
A financial magus in Manhattan stipulates in his will that his possessions be
The money should then, as Donleavy as puts it, “be converted to bank notes of
small denomination and placed in a steel receptacle six feet high and one foot
in diameter and so placed and so constructed as to withstand the rigors of a
After the street is cleared, the public will be allowed to rush the container
with fishing rods and croquet mallets.
“Citizens appearing out of the blue in skin diving equipment are to be looked
The ensuing mob scene is to be filmed for posterity.
Reviewing Donleavy’s “The Onion Eaters” in The New York Times, Anatole Broyard
comments that it did not contain “a believable character, a meaningful
incident, a good laugh, an interesting observation or an admirable sentence.”
Broyard also notes, however, that someone in “The Onion Eaters” is accused of
“lascivious grass skirt dancing.”
That is the kind of utterance (to use Grice’s parlance) which will cause a
Donleavy admirers to scratch his chin, walk to the book-shelf and give the
novel another look.
Consider Donleavy’s “The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and
Manners,” a non-fiction thing, admittedly.
John Leonard notes in The New York Times:
"Donleavy instructs us on how, with style, to:”
“pass into the upper classes, marry a lady for her money, bite the hand that
feeds you, get rid of unwanted house guests, break wind, squeeze pimples, foul
a footpath, lick one’s plate, pick one’s nose, masturbate, deal with the
insane” and “blame somebody else for your venereal disease.”
J. P. Donleavy is an author whose novel “The Ginger Man” shook up the literary
world with its combination of sexual frankness and outrageous humour.
Donleavy had considerable trouble finding a publisher for “The Ginger Man,” his
bawdily adventurous story of life in Dublin, which he describes as
“celebratory, boisterous and resolutely careless mayhem.”
Brendan Behan, a friend, suggested that Donleavy send the manuscript to Olympia
Press in Paris.
This worked in that Olympia accepted “The Ginger Man”, but not THAT well, in
that it was published as part of The Traveler’s Companion series, which was
known for “erotica.”
“That was basically the end of my career,” Donleavy reminisces.
"I was ‘a dirty book writer’ out of Paris.”
“The Ginger Man” — whose bohemian antihero, Sebastian Dangerfield, is
impulsive, destructive, wayward, cruel, a monster, a clown and a psychopath —
was banned in some countries.
In the United States, Chapter 10 was omitted, along with numerous sentences
here and there (especially ‘there’).
Donleavy’s “The Ginger Man” eventually won critical acclaim and public
acceptance, so much so that it is now considered a classic.
Donleavy is now compared to James Joyce and hailed as a forerunner of the black
“What really makes ‘The Ginger Man’ a vital oeuvre,” Norman Podhoretz notes in
“Commentary”: “is the fact that it both reflects and comments dramatically on
the absurdities of an age clinging to values in which it simply cannot believe
and unable to summon up the courage to find out what its moral convictions
In a strange twist, after Donleavy had been pursuing legal action against
Olympia to regain the book’s copyright, he ends up owning the Paris company,
having sent his wife to slip into an auction and buy it for a relatively small
sum after it went bankrupt.
A stage version of “The Ginger Man” opened in London, with Richard Harris as
Dangerfield, and a “small-screen” film starring Ian Hendry was made.
Patrick O’Neal starred in an Off Broadway production (and opened a restaurant
named for the play across from Lincoln Center), but there is yet to be a
feature film version.
“Everyone who has ever been in Hollywood has had a go at making a film from the
book,” Donleavy notes “The Independent,” hyperbolically – as “The Independent”
Mike Nichols, John Huston and Robert Redford pursued the idea.
At one point, even Donleavy’s son Philip was set to produce a film on “The
Johnny Depp is perhaps the most recent film figure to announce plans to develop
If anyone doubted Donleavy’s taste for stylistic extravagance, the titles of
some of his pieces (“The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B.," the story of a
man whose only happy affair was with his nanny, and “The Destinies of Darcy
Dancer, Gentleman”) makes that Griceian point on their own.
The protagonist of “The Onion Eaters” lives in a crumbling castle and is prone
to sex and violence.
Even Donleavy’s etiquette guide, “The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of
Survival and Manners” is irreverent, including sections on “plate and knife
licking” and “how to prevent people from detesting you.”
Donleavy’s oeuvre includes “A Singular Man,” about a business executive who has
affairs with two secretaries and his housekeeper, and “A Fairy Tale of New
York," about a man who goes to work at a funeral home to pay for his wife’s
Donleavy found himself in the news when his second wife Mary Wilson Price
revealed that the two children she had given birth to during their marriage,
were not Donleavy’s.
DNA tests performed established that Rebecca Donleavy is the biological
daughter of Kieran Guinness, of the brewing dynasty, and that Rory Donleavy is
the biological son of Finn Guinness, Kieran’s brother.
James Patrick Donleavy, Jr., was born in Brooklyn the son of James Patrick and
Donleavy grew up near Van Cortlandt Park, in the northwest Bronx.
Donleavy's father worked as an orchid grower.
Donleavy boxed at the New York Athletic Club and was told he had the makings of
a middleweight champion.
"The trick is to keep the arm and fist loose like a piece of spaghetti and the
fist limp until the moment of impact,” Donleavy notes, having kept up his
skills over the years.
"If you do that, they will not even see it coming.”
After serving in the Navy in World War II, he studied microbiology at Trinity
in Dublin on the G.I. Bill.
The title character of “The Ginger Man,” is inspired by a Trinity class-mate,
Gainor Stephen Crist.
Donleavy lived in London and on the Isle of Man, and moved to Ireland after
Ireland abolished the income tax for creative artists.
Donleavy lived since at Levington, a manor house on a 180-acre estate and farm
in West Meath.
Donleavy’s marriage, to Valerie Heron, ended in divorce.
In addition to a sister, and the two children from his marriage to Price, his
survivors include his son Philip and a daughter, Karen Donleavy, from his
marriage to Heron, and several grandchildren.
His last novels are “The Lady Who Liked Clean Rest Rooms” and “Wrong
Information Is Being Given Out at Princeton."
Donleavy was working for years on a manuscript, “The Dog That Fell From the
These three novels are set in and around New York – which is very okay since a
New Yorker he was!