If you want to learn easily and objectively, while being entertained, what
has happened to the human race in 200 years, go and see the movie Tom
Jones at the United Artists, and next evening, the live play, The Ginger
Man at the Encore.
By and large, pictures that move don't move me, but Tom Jones is
close to the best that the industry can do. It is a landmark in the history
of cinema, as they say in the highbrow reviews, which means that it
does not insult the intelligence of an adult.
Fielding's novel Tom Jones has been called one of the three greatest
tales in the history of literature. It set the basic type for the plot of the
novel of self realization. Tom discovers himself. He finds out, in the
course of a series of remarkable adventures, who he is. It is not just
that he learns his true parentage and realizes his potentialities; he
discovers what he really is, himself for himself alone. . . his ego
center, as our 20th-century headshrinkers put it.
This is the plot of James Joyce's Ulysses and his Portrait of the Artist
as a Young Man: it is also the plot of the best novels of F. Scott
Fitzgerald, and of dozens of other famous works before and since.
In addition, Tom Jones is the greatest of the English picaresque novels,
the classic type of the kaleidoscopic adventures of a lovable rascal. Once
in a while the picture gets a little flashy, but by and large it is honest
and clear. Clear is the word for Fielding, his characters have an uncanny
clarity, as though we were watchiug real people from behind an invisible
sheet of glass.
The Ginger Man is also an adaptation of a novel. It has enjoyed a limited
reputation amongst the most judicious critics ever since it appeared, as the
best of the novels of the English Angry Young Men.
Possibly this is because the author, J. P. Donleavy, is neither English
nor angry. He is an Irish American and as full of fun as an old time
professional bar fly from Paddy McGinty's Beer Parlor. His association
with the AYM is due to the fact that he was abroad and part of their
circle when the novel was published. Comic he may be, but it is with
a gallows humor.
If Tom Jones is the type English picaresque novel, The Ginger Man
is the anti-type. Its thesis might be described as a demonstration of the
utter impossibility of being Tom Jones in a contemporary city. Its hero,
Sebastian Dangerfield, is a rascal, true enough, but he is an empty rascal,
and he gets progressively emptier, until he becomes just a sort of hole
in the story.
Tom Jones is an entrepreneur, Sebastian Dangerfield is a delinquent.
Fielding wrote a mocking story of 18th-century man on the way up,
the type of the emerging capitalist class, as the Marxists would call him.
Before he got far with his tale, he was overcome with admiration for his
own invented hero. Donleavy wrote of the adventures of the same kind
of youth, in a time when history has made him redundant, and so
Sebastian Dangerfield is just a sociopath. It is not that he goes down hill
morally, it is that he gets in the literal sense of the catch phrase -
"absolutely nowhere." Imagine, if you can, a funny Journey to the
End of the Night.
And yet Sebastian is lovable, as so many characters
on Death Row are.
He rouses every motherly instinct, and all our philosophical pity for the
senseless waste of existence. He is just another of the billions of codfish
eggs that never hatched in the bosom of the sea. But more than that,
drunken, crooked and slyly effeminate, he clings to the masculine clarity
of vision that made the author if not the hero of Tom Jones great. He
steadfastly refuses to call things what they are not. Far more than Henry
Miller's heroes, his honesty is shameless and stark, and so his lack of
sham judges all the sham with which we garb our own actions.
Bawdy as it is, there is something very evangelical about The Ginger Man.
It is a retelling of the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. The Emperor in
this case is that figure St. Paul used to call "the ruler of this world,"
where "this world" is that immense category that St. Paul used to link
with the flesh and the devil.
Copywright 1964. Reprinted by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust