We're delighted to present an extract from The Ginger Man Letters: Correspondence by J.P Donleavy, Gainor Crist, A.K Donoghue, published by Lilliput Press.
Edited by Bill Dunn, The Ginger Man Letters presents the riveting backstory of the classic novel, set in post-war bohemian Dublin, through the correspondence of Donleavy and his Trinity College chums Gainor Steven Crist and Arthur Kenneth Donoghue, who inspired the main characters, Sebastian Dangerfield and Kenneth O’Keefe.
After months of silence Donleavy renews contact with Crist and Donoghue, unburdening himself.
The Ginger Man, a serious work of fiction, had been published in June 1955 by The Olympia Press, Paris - not in its literary collection Merlin but in its pornographic Traveller’s Companion Series, which Donleavy strenuously protested, claiming misrepresentation and breach of contract. The author and publisher Maurice Girodias would become entangled in a legal battle that would last two decades. This letter carries no salutation but was written to Crist.
40 A Broughton Road, Fulham, London S.W.6, July 55
I don’t know if they sell it in the bookshops- I should suppose so- i.e. English Bookshop on Left Bank which some American runs- English Bookshop, 42, rue de Seine or Librairie Mistral, 37, rue de la Bucherie- someone might be reading it in a literary café- Le Tournon, 1 rue de Tournon- and failing all this- Olympia Press, 8 rue de Nesle Paris 6- phone DANton15-19. But the price is a bit fantastic. I don’t see how anyone will buy it- at Frs 1500 or 30/- although I’ve heard from them and they are giving me £150 when present printing is exhausted- which may be about coming of next Christ.
But Pam should be warned that Irish Customs will look at any book and unless she can put a bible cover over it or better a missal cover- they could easily confiscate it- Randall told me they looked through two books he was carrying and intended taking one away from him but due to fact that he was only spending day- they let him keep it. Will she be able to stop off in London on way back would like very much to see her. The gas works here is killing me. So is the baker across the street- every night smoke blows out of his chimney into my lungs. God let me get out of the smoke. I can’t stand it any more.
Olympia Press says that obviously I am a very difficult person- easily given to ignoring the problems of others and also given to violent outbursts of self pity- this in reply to a letter of mine forbidding them to send this edition to England with it included among list which for your enjoyment- is as follows- THE ENORMOUS BED: RAPE: SCHOOL FOR SIN: TENDER WAS MY FLESH: THE WHIP ANGELS: MY LIFE AND LOVES (FRANK HARRIS): CHARIOT OF FLESH: and one last that I must admit to being proud to have listed with Ginger Man- THE SEXUAL LIFE OF ROBINSON CRUSOE. Also one more title: WHITE THIGHS. An author I should suppose is a frustrated bank clerk who wants to be respectable- but of course this whole business is unfortunate merely because book deserves something more than this. Or does it.
I hate the Irish. God how I hate them. ¾ and the British- only Americans for me. I hope to make the Ginger Man into a libretto for Duffy to write music- you can play your comb and paper instrument that you used at Blackrock. Where will it all end. Tibet? Mac still wears his plastic collar- Dagmar has gone to Ibiza. We leave for Spain end of Oct. for where I can’t make up mind. Malaga or Ibiza- I can’t bear smoke any longer. But I don’t even want to do that. I think I’ll move to Bradford or Leeds which I’ll really feel at home.
Just got a letter from A.K. who says that his address till August 24th is-
He is chief counselor there and will then come to Europe. In London here I sit in park and as it says in Ginger Man
all sin starts
in the park
in the dark
with the lights on.
(a sentence out of book)
By God By God By God- my last short story was called MEET MY MAKER I don’t think I can last much longer but V. with P & K. send love to you all and special regards to Mariana.
40 A Broughton Road, London, S.W.6, July 25, 1964
Got news just a little more than a week ago that Crist is dead. He died in Tenerife in Canary Islands having been taken off a sailing ship enroute to the U.S.A. upon which he was a member of the crew. Have very sketchy third hand information about this, the ship was in fact a sailing vessel under sail, he was ill aboard this and taken off as I suppose the Canaries were the nearest land, he [was] put there in a hospital. I had heard stories and indeed saw photographs of him sent by M. Heron when he was supposed to be paralysed in the legs. But have now heard that this was only a temporary thing which came upon him when he was drinking. How old was he- I seem to remember about Behan’s age. It’s unlikely I’ll find out much more about anything- contact with people here rather skimpy if at all. Perhaps you have heard something from somebody, although this seems unlikely.
The ranks are thinning. But then they thinned out years ago when everyone spread all over the world. It was unlikely somehow that one would have seen Crist again. One thing I did know about him was that he was impervious to sea sickness. Enroute on the good ship Franconia from U.S.A. we set out from Halifax into the left over of an Atlantic storm and the seas were incredible, lifting the stern of the ship clear out of the water etc. Only a few hardy souls were left in the dining room, I finally sitting next to Crist was sick, that left Crist alone at table golfing down everyone’s horse dover [sic], while the rest of the ship were out of action including most of the crew.
This is perhaps one of his qualifications for being aboard this ship- which was to spend three months in the U.S.A. No one seems to know what has happened to his body. He was I think married to a girl called Pamela so she would be the next of kin. I would suppose that Con would know something- but have [not] seen nor heard anything of her for years. I can’t remember how I met Crist. I think you or Randall Hillis brought him to my rooms or I was introduced to him on the streets at Trinity. That was in the days of Howth must have been- when George Hill was there and I think he must have been one who got house out there. Hill has been directing pictures, saw one recently Life of Henry Orient- which I enjoyed although many folk look down their noses at this kind of film. Someone told me there was little love between yourself and himself.
If I hear more I’ll let you know, but what else is there to hear, I wonder if he’ll have a gravestone. It’s a Catholic place I hear so there will be some reverence for the dead- but sadly as we know this costs money and I don’t know what Crist’s affairs were like, he did have a flat and a servant or two. But in Spain this is not a sign of affluence if you are a foreigner.
I will be in Prague sometime this Autumn and perhaps Munich- so will journey on to Vienna. Where do you live now. Did you ever get the book on Ireland and banking I had sent. Today a warm sunny day in London and I wear seersucker and do much walking, hundreds and hundreds of Americans everywhere- in center of town hardly ever seen any English- most amazing. Big postal strike here so mail is slow, one of reasons didn’t write sooner.
While they shared and agreed on many things, Donoghue and Donleavy disagreed on Gainor Crist, whom they both knew so well, and came away with opposite conclusions. ‘Mike had sort of this high-class view of Gainor that I could never have. To me Gainor was a drunk who caused his wives a lot of suffering and all that,’ Donoghue told the editor in a 2006 interview. ‘Gainor Crist himself, although he was smart, never was interested in intellectual things. … He was a bright guy. He was very amused at the life here [Ireland]. He’d keep you laughing about their oddities. He was very good about that.’ Donleavy has described Crist in print as ‘a gentleman from Ohio …never lost his charm nor dignity and was not a boozing, whoring, wife-beating philanderer … elegant appeal, a man of immense compassion.’172 In the following letter to Donoghue, Donleavy offers his private thoughts about Crist and admits regret.
40 A Broughton Road, London, S.W.6, January 7, 1966
Mr. dear General,
I am in receipt of your extraordinary document of December 7, 1965 from Embassy of the U.S.A. Madrid, Spain. Fitting. Terribly fitting. In view of the numerous ill advised times that gentleman entered, sat about and exited from various American Embassies in Europe. I repeatedly said to him don’t. Don’t go into those portals. Ere a statutory document shall confound you and some of those close to you. And new one comes to the final word, one which one never felt would be spoken by any American embassy under any circumstances concerning this gentleman ‘If the Embassy can be of further service to you, please do not hesitate to write.’ Much beauty here.
Further, never that it has ever had to be questioned, that the gentleman lived through the day of celebration of American independence- I think it was that which was celebrated on July 4th. I regarded Crist as an American- Real. Untainted by Europe. Not of the wretched immigrant class as myself. Still brushing from the person the mud of the bog. Only sad note- is the poor quality of the American Embassy paper in Madrid upon which the letter is written.
Crist had many good qualities. He exerted democracy where ere he drank. He often punched folk in the face and pulled their hair when remarks unbecoming were made of me outside my presence- he beat the shit out of two Dublin arty crafties on my behalf - giving one of them a lengthy wooling on the floor- that is holding their hair in both hands and swinging it to and fro so that the head doesn’t half go with it fast enough- so that at the root of the hair pain is caused and some of it lost. I believe and old Irish form of justice.
I do regret that one’s last moments with Crist were ill of nature. But he had such incredible principles- amazing. I never figured he would stick to them- but stick he did. I once refused to buy him a pint in a pub in Fulham Broadway- but agreed to purchase a half pint and other half pint after- he said a pint now or a pint never. I believe I ordered the half pint. It came- he refused to drink. But said he would wait until I had drunk. I couldn’t believe it- again of course I am even as much principled as he- and would not buy the pint and did not. But there it was, the half, dripping with foam. There on the mahogany- I waiting for Crist to leap in one wild gesture and down it- never. He looked into the near distance at the publican’s wife. Thinking, I know not what. Perhaps marrying her for the pub’s sake-
Your stories safely received- read and enjoyed. And have to venture to New York next week for fast visit- to put down if I can naughtiness which has arisen there- dreadful the sneaky ways of folk- but will keep you in touch. Madam Sayle I think visiting Vienna, and she sends regards. And what about that longer story which was read to me. Also ‘THE CROW BEARING TRIBUTE SINGS A FAR SWEETER SONG THAN THE NIGHTINGALE WHO COMES TO COLLECT TAXES’ a chinese proverb or a Donoghue.
The Ginger Man Letters, published by Lilliput Press, is out now.