The Ginger Man Summary
by J. P. Donleavy

Start Your Free Trial

The Ginger Man Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Download The Ginger Man Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The Ginger Man presents the slapstick, bawdy, picaresque adventures of Sebastian Dangerfield. Born in St. Louis, Sebastian is supposedly studying law at Trinity College in Dublin on the GI bill sometime after World War II. (J. P. Donleavy was a Trinity student from 1946 to 1949.) He pays no attention to his studies and ignores his responsibilities to Marion, his English-born wife, and Felicity, their infant daughter.

Sebastian is a wild man who behaves reprehensibly: He runs up bills he has no intention of settling, neglects to repay loans from his friends, steals a mistress’s belongings, takes money intended for his child’s milk, accidentally exposes himself on a train, gets into fights in bars, slaps a mistress, slugs Marion, and tries to suffocate his screaming daughter with a pillow. He careens recklessly from one corner of Dublin to another, praying to his patron saint, the Blessed Oliver Plunket, to keep him from too much harm.

Sebastian longs for a life of wealth and status, which is one of the reasons that he married Marion, the daughter of an admiral. He reads an American business magazine, his “bible of happiness,” with the delight others might experience with pornography, fantasizing about becoming “Sebastian Bullion Dangerfield, chairman of Quids Inc., largest banking firm in the world,” yet he never intends to make any effort to create this wealth. Instead, he and his family move from one ramshackle house to another, constantly fleeing the efforts of one persistent landlord, Egbert Skully, to collect what he is owed.

The squalor of their surroundings depresses Marion, who is accustomed to a much more comfortable environment; she is especially annoyed when an upstairs toilet Sebastian has put off repairing falls through the ceiling. Sebastian counts on his inheritance to rescue him from the mire that he has created for himself, but Marion writes his father about the sordid details of their life. When his father finally dies, Sebastian is to receive nothing for twenty years.

Marion eventually leaves him, and after a selfish affair with the spinsterish Lilly Frost, Sebastian, with nowhere left to hide in Dublin, retreats into further exile in London. There he renews an affair with Mary, one of his Dublin mistresses, and lives off the goodwill of friends such as Percy Cocklan. The same pattern of problems and evasions of responsibility is bound to repeat itself. Sebastian has chased himself into exile; he is forever on the run from himself, leaving behind homelands as irretrievable as the past with which they are associated.


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield and his English wife, Marion, together with their infant daughter, Felicity, are living in Dublin. Supported by the G.I. Bill and nominally a student of law at Trinity College, Sebastian idles away his time in a continuous spiral of drink, seduction, and deception. He finances his rakehell exploits by sponging on the gullible, stealing or pawning whatever is movable, and conning whomever he can, using his posh accent and college scarf as reference. His wild pranks range from the humorous to the outrageous: fetching home a sheep’s head for dinner, engaging in a furious pub brawl and a hilarious chase among Dublin’s streets, seeing excreta falling through the ceiling in one lodging, hacking through the sewer line in another, even, at one point, attempting to smother Felicity. The cumulative effect of these escapades and the neglect of his daughter (she suffers from rickets) is to wear out the patience of his wife, who finally leaves him for her parents in England. Undeterred by his progressively straitened circumstances, he seduces his tenant, the naive and timid Miss Frost (a frustrated, early-middle-aged florist’s assistant) and carouses among the denizens of Dublin’s bohemia, all the while gleefully eluding a former landlord, Egbert Skully.

His closest companion is...

(The entire section is 950 words.)