The times we lived in
I HAVE A COUSIN in Texas who adores JP Donleavy, and reckons The Ginger Man is a work of sublime genius. Outraged by my repeated shrugs of indifference and ignorance he sent me a copy of it recently, complete with foreword by Jay McInerney which declares the novel to be “one of the great stylistic tours de force of the 20th century”.
It is indeed an extraordinary piece of prose. For years, however, The Ginger Man was regarded in Ireland, much more prosaically, as the dirtiest book since Ulysses. First published in 1955, the tale of Sebastian Dangerfield – a young American living in Dublin with his English wife and baby daughter, and “studying law” at Trinity College, aka going on an almighty and prolonged bender – was promptly banned for obscenity.
Donleavy’s stage adaptation suffered a similar fate. After running for just three nights at the Gaiety Theatre, with Richard Harris in the role of Dangerfield, the play was withdrawn.
This photograph captures the mood of the three principal actors in the Ginger Man drama as they peruse reports of the fracas in the newspapers.
A dapper Donleavy, in the centre, looks more bemused than surprised. On the left, producer Philip Wiseman stares glumly at the camera. To the right of the frame the youthful Harris lounges on a sofa, his hair fashionably dishevelled.
Where are they? Probably backstage at the Gaiety somewhere, in a room which could itself have come right out of The Ginger Man; net curtains which don’t quite meet, lampshade askew, pipes on the wall exposed (but not in a good way).
The accompanying report reads like a script for a mystery story.
“Somebody” suggested to the Gaiety that cuts should be made to the production. The suggestion was declined by the company, which had signed a contract with the author forbidding any changes. The cutglass politeness is more bizarre than anything Sebastian Dangerfield at his most inebriated could dream up. The shadowy “somebody”, no prizes for guessing, may well have been Archbishop John Charles McQuaid.
Back in the 21st century, Johnny Depp is a big fan of The Ginger Man and is keen to bring it to the big screen. A happy ending at last? No pressure, JD and JP, but you guys could make my cousin Arthur a very happy man.