All of the principal works produced by J. P. Donleavy (DUHN-lee-vee) are novels, but some of theprotagonists and central situations of these novels are explored in other literary forms. A Fairy Tale of New York is derived from the play Fairy Tales of New York (pb. 1961) and the short story “A Fairy Tale of New York” (1961), later collected in Donleavy’s volume of short stories Meet My Maker the Mad Molecule (1964). Donleavy adapted several of his published novels for the stage: The Ginger Man (pr. 1959), A Singular Man (pb. 1965), The Saddest Summer of Samuel S (pb. 1972), and The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B (pr. 1981). He also wrote a book of satiric nonfiction, The Unexpurgated Code: A Complete Manual of Survival and Manners (1975). Among Donleavy’s limited production of occasional pieces are two important autobiographical essays: “What They Did in Dublin,” an introduction to his play The Ginger Man, and “An Expatriate Looks at America,” which appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1976. He explored his Irish heritage in J. P. Donleavy’s Ireland: In All Her Sins and Some of Her Graces (1986), A Singular Country (1990), and The History of the Ginger Man (1994).
The prevailing literary image of J. P. Donleavy is that of the one-book author: He gained celebrity status of a notorious sort with his first novel, The Ginger Man, but his subsequent novels failed to generate equal interest. Reactions to The Ginger Man, a book that did not appear in an unexpurgated American edition until ten years after its first publication, ranged from outraged condemnations of it as obscene in language and immoral in content to later appreciations of it as a comic masterpiece. The later novels have been received with moderate praise for their style and humor and with slight dismay for their lack of structure or apparent intent. Donleavy himself remained confidently aloof from all critical condemnation, exaltation, and condescension. He continued to pursue his private interests in fiction, to discourage academic interest in his work, and to express, when pressed, bemusement at literary frays of any sort. His work is difficult to place in standard literary traditions: His residency in Ireland and fondness for Irish settings seem to place his work outside American literature, but his birth and use of American protagonists seem to place it outside Anglo-Irish literature as well.
Donleavy, J. P. “The Art of Fiction LIII: J. P. Donleavy.” Interview by Molly McKaughan. Paris Review 16 (Fall, 1975): 122-166. In this lengthiest of interviews with Donleavy, he discusses the complex publishing history of The Ginger Man, the painful process of writing, the differences between his characters and himself, his preference for reading newspapers and magazines rather than novels, his life on his Irish farm, and his attitudes toward critics, New York, and death.
Donleavy, J. P. “An Interview with J. P. Donleavy.” Interview by Kurt Jacobson. Journal of Irish Literature 8 (January, 1979): 39-48. Donleavy explains how he evolved from student of natural science to painter to writer and discusses the origins of some of the characters and events in The Ginger Man and that novel’s controversial reception.
Donleavy, J. P. “Only for the Moment Am I Saying Nothing: An Interview with J. P. Donleavy.” Interview by Thomas E. Kennedy. Literary Review 40 (1997): 655-671. A wide-ranging interview at Donleavy’s mansion in Ireland, addressing issues from all periods of his literary career and personal life. Particular attention is afforded to the details of his methods of writing and the status of his manuscripts. Contains a bibliography of books by Donleavy.
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