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James Patrick Donleavy

James Patrick Donleavy

The literary career of J.P. Donleavy (born 1926) has spanned nearly 50 years, though he is most famous for his first novel, The Ginger Man.

James Patrick Donleavy was born on April 23, 1926, in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Irish immigrants who settled with their three children in the Bronx neighborhood of Woodlawn. Donleavy established a poor reputation in school when he was expelled from Fordham Preparatory, a New York Jesuit school. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II, then used the GI bill to attend Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He lived in Ireland and England, eventually settling permanently in Ireland. Donleavy became an Irish citizen in 1967 as "a purely practical matter of tax," he told Thomas E. Kennedy of Literary Review. "Not actually to gain money so much as to simplify my life." He settled into a 25-room mansion, which once belonged to Julie Andrews, on 200 acres of land in Mullingar, about 60 miles from Dublin.

Donleavy married Valerie Heron, with whom he had a son, Philip; and a daughter, Karen. After his divorce from Heron, he married Mary Wilson Price in 1970 with whom he had a daughter, Rebecca; and son, Rory. Price and Donleavy were divorced in the 1980s.

Donleavy's life seemed to center around wild friends who provoked even wilder events, which he faithfully documented in his books. J.P. Donleavy's Ireland chronicles the years between Donleavy's move to Dublin in 1946 as a student and the publication of The Ginger Man in 1955. "More than just a string of drinking stories," wrote Kevin Scanlon in Maclean's, "the book documents Donleavy's metamorphosis from young American to Irish artist. And like the convert who embraces a religion more fervently than its priests, Donleavy frequently sounds more Irish than the Irish themselves. It is a joyous, passionate and resonant cry."

The Ginger Man

Donleavy's first book was initially rejected by nearly 50 publishers. The Ginger Man is the story of Sebastian Dangerfield, "a solitary outsider in a hostile society who is motivated by greed, prurience, and envy," noted a reviewer for Contemporary Literary Criticism. Dangerfield "spends most of his time pursuing women and alcohol while neglecting his wife, child, and law studies, and he aspires to upper-class status but is unwilling to compromise his nonconformist nature to attain financial success." Donleavy wrote the book, noted Ginny Dougary of The Times, using "a style that was as arresting as his hero: a combination of whiplash narrative and stream of consciousness, punctuated by the four-line haiku that were to become his trademark."

After several years of gathering rejections for the manuscript, the book finally found a publisher at Olympia Press in 1955. Without Donleavy's consent, the book was placed in the pornographic Travlers Companion series. This prompted the author to end his agreement with Olympia. Later Olympia sued an English publisher for breach of contract over the publication of a less offensive version of the book in 1956. The ensuing legal battle ended in 1979, when Donleavy bought the bankrupt company. The controversy disheartened and depressed Donleavy, who later told Thomas E. Kennedy of Literary Review, he had become something of a hermit. "As this litigation increased," Donleavy said, "my withdrawal from the world increased. Howard Hughes and his reclusive behavior in his life was no mystery to me."

A complete, uncut version of The Ginger Man was finally published in the United States in 1965. Since then, the book, which has never been out of print in the U.S., has sold several million copies and garnered a cult following. Fans like Robert Redford, Mike Nichols, Sam Spiegel, and John Huston vied for the rights to make film versions of the book, but Donleavy was reluctant to relinquish control of his story. His son Philip worked to produce the film in the early 1990s, but the project was never completed.

Hard Act to Follow

Donleavy followed his bestseller with more than a dozen subsequent novels, plays, works of non-fiction and short stories, but none achieved the same level of success. Many, in fact, drew less-than-favorable comparisons to his first book. Dougary noted that other reviews "have been even more withering. The Observer's verdict on Fairy Tales of New York, for instance, is not untypical: 'An unstoppable flow of self-indulgent drivel.' "

Other critics defended Donleavy. Kennedy argued that critics pan the writer with complaints "that Donleavy merely repeats himself-in fact the theme and content of his books vary greatly, although they do share a vision of death's inevitability and man's dark-comically earnest wish to evade it.… "One book with Donleavy's brand of dark humor is The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival & Manners. Published in 1975, the book mocks Victorian etiquette novels with a dose of bathroom humor.

Some of Donleavy's early writing explored genres other than the novel. He wrote short stories, publishing a collection called Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule in 1964. Other writings ended up on stage, including an adaptation of The Ginger Man that was produced in London and Dublin in 1959, and in New York in 1963. Later, he adapted several other novels for the stage, including A Singular Man, which was produced in Cambridge and London in 1964 and Westport, Connecticut, in 1967. The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B made its way to the stage in London in 1981 and in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1985 productions.

Inspired Controversy

Donleavy's writings continued to draw fire. His 1984 book, De Alfonce Tennis: The Superlative Game of Eccentric Champions, Its History, Accoutrements, Rules, Conduct, and Regimen, for example, led critic Andrew Brown, as stated in Contemporary Literary Criticism to comment, "it is pointless to speculate on the reasons this book was written as it was, or published at all. But why should anyone read it? … It is a deliberate attack on language with intent to maim, to remove even the possibility of meaning. It is the literary equivalent of heavy metal music.… "

As he entered his seventies, Donleavy steadily produced novels and attracted praise ranging from tepid to torrid. Donleavy's 1998 book Wrong Information is Being Given Out at Princeton introduced a man who marries into money but finds it isn't what he expected. A Kirkus Reviews writer noted of Donleavy, "the old dog is showing signs of age, but his friends will always be glad he's dropped in to say hello, even if their children find him a trifle unkempt and creepy."

Donleavy's career came full circle with the 1994 publication of The History of The Ginger Man. Seymour Lawrence, Donleavy's editor, told Wendy Smith of Publishers Weekly, "I had heard all these stories-he was living in a cottage without a toilet or heat, he was broke, his wife had just had a baby-and I urged him to write them down." The book, touted as an autobiography, focused on Donleavy's one real claim to fame. As Dougary pointed out, Donleavy's wife and child "seem hardly to exist," in the book, noting that "this lack of domestic detail and tenderness towards those who shared his life most intimately makes his own life seem as exaggerated and one-dimensional as a cartoon. It also gives the impression of a selfish man, forever swept up in his own obsessive quests."

Further Reading

Complete Marquis Who's Who, Marquis Who's Who, 1997.

Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Vol. 24, edited by Deborah A. Straub, Gale, 1988.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Daniel G. Marowski and roger Matuz, Gale, 1987.

Contemporary Novelists, edited by Susan Windisch Brown, Gale, 1996.

Booklist, June 1, 1997.

Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 1994; April 15, 1997; October 1, 1998.

Literary Review, Summer 1997.

Maclean's, October 13, 1986.

Newsweek, September 15, 1975.

Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1993; February 28, 1994;April 7, 1997.

Tennis Magazine, July 1995.

The Times, May 28, 1994.

Pure Fiction,http://www.pcug.co.uk (March 19, 1999). □

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"James Patrick Donleavy." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Donleavy, J(ames) P(atrick)

DONLEAVY, J(ames) P(atrick)

Nationality: Irish. Born: Brooklyn, New York, United States, 23 April 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. Family: Married 1) Valerie Heron (divorced), one son and one daughter; 2) Mary Wilson Price in 1970 (divorced), one daughter and one son. 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. Address: Levington Park, Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland.

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 threeAmerican, English, Irishof 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 apthis 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 sexualand 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 elegiacthe 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 stasisrich, 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 perceptionunder 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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"Donleavy, J(ames) P(atrick)." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Donleavy, J(ames) P(atrick)." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved May 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/donleavy-james-patrick