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The History of the Ginger Man: An Autobiography

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By: J.P. Donleavy

Publication Date: October 2011

(3 customer reviews)

The History of the Ginger Man: An Autobiography is the dramatic story of J. P. Donleavy’s personal struggle to create and publish a book that became a twentieth-century masterpiece: The Ginger Man .

It is literally history combined with Donleavy’s autobiography – from his childhood in the Bronx, education at Catholic schools, service in the U.S. Navy, and travels, to his current life as proprietor of a landed estate in the midlands of Ireland. Trinity College in Dublin after World War II was a mecca for adventurous Americans who used the G.I. Bill as a passport to higher education,. Among them were able-bodied seamen, second class J.P. ‘Mike’ Donleavy, fighter pilot George Roy Hill (now a celebrated Hollywood actor), and a naval yeoman Gainor Stephen Crist, a Midwestern rara avis and model for the Ginger Man.

Student life included degrees in debauchery; drunken brawls in Dublin pubs; comic capers with the playwright Brendan Behan; eccentric Anglo-Irish aristocrats; living on miraculous credit and in constant debt with plenty of time for the seduction of nice Catholic girls. Donleavy, impecunious and newly married, began to write The Ginger Man in a primitive isolated cottage at Kilcoole. He completed the book over a period of four years on two continents.

The Ginger Man was rejected by nearly thirty-five American and British publishers. The book was finally published in Paris in 1955 by Maurice Girondias of the Olympia Press as a work of pornography. Twenty-five years of bitter litigation between Donleavy and Girodias followed, with Donleavy emerging triumphant as sole owner of Olympia and its copyrights, including that of The Ginger Man.


J.P. ‘Mike’ Donleavy (1926–2017) wrote more than twenty books after The Ginger Man, including The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B (1968), A Fairy Tale of New York (1973), The Onion Eaters (1971) and Schultz (1979) (all available as eBooks from Lilliput), along with several works of non-fiction such as The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners (1975). He lived along the shores of Lough Owel near Mullingar in County Westmeath. Watch J.P. Donleavy win the An Post Lifetime Achievement Award 2015.

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3 reviews for The History of the Ginger Man: An Autobiography

  1. Lilliput Press

    “This is a very, very enjoyable book and I highly recommend it! It takes a little while to get used to Donleavy’s syntax and punctuation, but once you do it’s a great read. However, the title of the book is a little misleading. It’s not really the history of Donleavy’s classic “Ginger Man.” It’s basically Donleavy’s autobiography up to the point of the publishing of “Ginger Man” in Paris and England. Donleavy shares nothing particularly revealing about the genesis of “Ginger Man,” although one assumes that his friend Stephen Gainor Crist was the inspiration for Sebastian Dangerfield. Otherwise he shares very little about the characters, plot, etc or where they came from. He just tells his life story, every once in a while mentioning that he is still writing “The Ginger Man.”
    Unfortunately, the book basically just stops after the English publication, although there is a heck of a lot longer story to tell after that. At this point, Donleavy simply stops writing, telling us only that he now owns the publishing company of his bitter enemy, publisher Maurice Girodias (of Olympia Press fame), and that his life has been blessed by the proceeds from his book. For those interested in Donleavy’s 20 year battle with Girodias, you’ll have to check into “Venus Bound: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press” by John De St. Jorre (perhaps also with “The Candy Men” by Niles Southern). Personally, I wish Donleavy had included more about his legal battles with Girodias, on which he could probably write another 400 page book.
    Another thing Donleavy overlooks is his family relationships. From the text we know he has been married at least twice and fathered at least two children, but we get little more than their first names. I’d love to know why he divorced the first wife, divorced the second, and what became of his family (there were at least 4 children).
    Still, it’s a great read. I highly recommend it. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry and you’ll love some of the characters in Donleavy’s life and want to strangle others.”

  2. Lilliput Press

    Absolutely fantastic book, really funny and I actually found it a better read than the original novel itself. I would recommend reading “The Ginger man” first I made the mistake of reading the autobiography first because I could not get hold of the novel at the time in the library. This book will help the reader understand how and where the author got his ideas for the famous novel. The protagonist is a laugh, what a character.” A SMITH

  3. Lilliput Press

    “Mr Donleavy has a mighty talent for making the ordinary extraordinary through his masterful and singular command of the English language. A great read I highly recommend.”

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Weight 1 kg
Publication Date

October 2011


eBook, 520pp