The Ginger Man

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First edition

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.

Plot introduction[edit]

The terra incognita of sexual encounters in late 1940s Dublin is mapped in the often racy misadventures of Sebastian Dangerfield, a student of law at Trinity College, who lives in Dublin with his English wife and infant daughter. Dangerfield, an American Protestant of Irish descent, is commonly believed to be a fictional version of the author, or perhaps more broadly, a composite of Donleavy and his contemporaries at Trinity.

The Ginger Man was part of the rush of fictionalized works immediately following the Second World War, an era which includes seminal works by John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck.


The Ginger Man was named one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library in 1998.[1] It has sold 45 million copies world-wide and never been out of print.[2]


Donleavy wrote a stage adaptation of The Ginger Man which opened in London in September 1959, with Richard Harris playing Dangerfield. In October, the play opened in Dublin, also starring Harris, and was closed after three performances, due to the play's offensiveness according to the Dublin critics, and following protests from the Catholic Church.[2] All this is recorded by Donleavy in the 1961 Random House publication of the play with an essay by Donleavy, "What They Did in Dublin with The Ginger Man (a play)".

The BBC produced a 90-minute made-for-television version of the play, directed by Peter Dews, and aired on 23 March 1962 in the United Kingdom. Ann Bell played "Marion Dangerfield", Ronald Fraser as "Kenneth O'Keefe", Ian Hendry as "Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield", and Margaret Tyzack was "Miss Frost".[3]

Donleavy asked director George Roy Hill to film the novel (the two of them, along with Gainor Crist, had been at Trinity together), but Hill felt that he would lose perspective because the project would be too close to his heart and his time as a young man at Trinity.[4]

In 2005 there was reportedly discussion with actor Johnny Depp about starring in a film based on the novel.[5] Rumors of getting the project started surfaced every year or two since 1998, including Depp traveling to Dublin to work on a script with Donleavy, and Depp enlisted Shane MacGowan for a part, but it never seemed to get going. In 2006 it appeared things were taking shape, with Depp selecting a director, Laurence Dunmore (The Libertine).[6][7] Apparently, interest waned with the success of Pirates of the Caribbean.[8] Depp returned to Ireland to meet with Donleavy again in the summer of 2008.[9] As recently as June 2009, Donleavy was still hopeful that Depp would start the project in earnest.[10]

The book also inspired songs of the same name, the first recorded by Geoff Muldaur, Fritz Richmond, and John Sebastian on the 1964 Elektra The Blues Project (EKL-264). (However, the liner notes for this album indicate that the song was a tribute to Richmond.) A second was written and recorded by Australian singer-songwriter Brian Cadd and was released as the first single from his self-titled debut album, released in October 1972.[11][12]


Donleavy, James Patrick:

  • (alternate title; 1961: What They Did in Dublin, With The Ginger Man, A Play. Macgibbon & Kee.)
  • 1994: The History of The Ginger Man. Viking. ISBN 978-0-670-84793-8.
  • 1964: 'Ginger Man' Geoff Muldaur, 'The Blues Project' Elektra Records EKS7264


  1. ^ "100 Best Novels". Modern Library. 
  2. ^ a b McEntee, John (4 August 2010). "A singular Life: J. P. Donleavy on his fascinating life since The Ginger Man". The Independent. 
  3. ^ The Ginger Man at the Internet Movie Database (1962)
  4. ^ Horton, Andrew (2005). The Films of George Roy Hill. McFarland. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0-7864-1931-9. 
  5. ^ Lacey, Colin (March 29, 1994). "ARTS: The Road From Smut to Classic: JP Donleavy Returns With a Ginger Man". Irish Voice – via jpdonleavy-compendium. 
  6. ^ Lavery, Brian (February 14, 2006). "'Ginger Man' lured back into limelight". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Johnny goes Ginger...". Total Film. January 18, 2006. 
  8. ^ Fischer, Martha (January 16, 2006). "Johnny Depp, Ginger Man?". Cinematical. 
  9. ^ Egan, Barry (May 11, 2008). "Johnny has Depp feeling for Donleavy classic tale". Irish Independent. 
  10. ^ Haynes, Kenneth (July 23, 2009). "JP Donleavy digs Johnny Depp as The Ginger Man". 
  11. ^ "History". Brian Cadd. Retrieved 13 July 2015. 
  12. ^ "Brian Cadd". MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975. Retrieved 13 July 2015.