Censored Books: The Gingerman

The Ginger Man was a novel written by J.P Donleavy in 1955.

Donleavy was born in America to Irish immigrant parents on the 23rd of April 1926.

Always an independent thinker Donleavy admitted he was an atheist when he was just 14 years of age.

He joined the American navy and served during World War II, after which he took advantage of the “G.I Bill” to study at home in America and then continue his studies in Trinity College Dublin.

Whilst not much of a student, his time in Ireland inspired him to write many works including The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B, A Fairy Tale of New York and of course The Ginger Man.

Published in 1955 by the infamously avant-garde publishing company the Olympia Press who printed other controversial books such as Lolita and The Naked Lunch.

The Ginger Man chronicles the college years of the notoriously un-studious Sebastian Dangerfield.

Sebastian lives a hedonistic lifestyle. Despite having a wife and child waiting at home he spends his days drinking, womanizing and wasting his bursary in the pursuit of pleasure, always convinced that the success he feels “entitled” to will be just around the corner.

As he was a Trinity student himself, who like the protagonist never attained a degree, many reckon The Ginger Man to be a semi-autobiographical account of J.P Donleavy’s time at the college, however he maintains Sebastian is based more on a friend of his.

The character Sebastian can be considered less as one individual’s exploits and more a melting pot of all the bohemian, alcoholic messers that littered the college at the time. The archetypal waster if you will.

At the time of its release censorship was rampant in Ireland. The committee on evil literature and the censorship of publications boards banned many written publications. The attitude of the authorities was that arts should only be encouraged when it encourages the holiest traditions.

The Ginger Man did not encourage these traditions.

Sebastian’s debaucherous lifestyle was considered by the church and authorities to be a danger to the moral fibre of Irish people and as a result it was banned upon publication.

Despite this the book’s popularity has never waned. It has never been out of print and was a number one bestseller upon its release and again in 2006.

The ban of his books has never had a negative impact upon J.P Donleavy and in fact the added notoriety may have helped the books popularity. One Georgian university has even gone so far as to declare Sebastian Dangerfield to be the patron saint of undergraduates in recognition of his absolute badassery. Many consider the popularity of The Ginger Man as well as other books that were banned during the era to be one of the factors that led to the re-evaluating of strict censorship laws in Ireland and abroad.

The Ginger Man looks set to remain a classic; recently Johnny Depp bought the movie rights to The Ginger Man and is set to play the arch-waster on the big screen.

By Eoin and Aaron


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