Delacorte/Seymour Lawrence, $8.95
A gentleman, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “a man of chivalrous instincts and fine feelings.” Such to be sure is J. P. Donleavy’s latest dauntless hero, Darcy Dancer, a charming, good-looking, and much put-upon scion of the Irish aristocracy.
Darcy’s difficulties bear an uncanny resemblance to those of his roguish eighteenth-century predecessor, Tom Jones. Already suffering from the death of his mother and the murky circumstances of his begetting, he is cast out of his ancestral home—where he is attended by various loony servants—because of his dalliance with the housekeeper. Irate fox-hunters, sleazy bohemians, and other inferior types pepper the road to reinstatement, and Darcy Dancer’s gentlemanliness, along with his stamina, is well tested.
Donleavy has provided several ironic twists to this tale in order to prove that true nobility is more a matter of integrity and spirit than of birth or pocketbook—an idea as little understood today, apparently, as it was in Fielding’s time. He has also moderated the bitterness that prevailed in his last few novels, in favor of a lilting lyricism which is surprisingly moving. This is nicely offset by frequent moments of hilarity, including one of the most riotous chase scenes ever to gallop across the printed page.