“When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him.” 
 - Jonathan Swift


By Doc Lawrence

There are events in our lives that have a joyous impact. My personal favorite remains that glorious weekend years ago in the French Quarter when I read John Kennedy Toole’s remarkable Pulitzer Prize winner, “A Confederacy of Dunces.” Looking back at those days of uninterrupted page turning, I truly believe this book made me want to be a better writer. I know the glorious story about all the zany characters forever changed how I view New Orleans.

The author killed himself at age 31, leaving a grieving mother with the task of completing the publication of his manuscript which she accomplished with the help of another New Orleans denizen, Walker Percy. The book became an instant hit with an international fan base. While living in Scarborough, England, I rarely met anyone who hadn’t read it. “Confederacy” became a means of cultivating acquaintance and friendship.

The centerpiece of Toole’s masterpiece is the remarkable Ignatius J. Reilly,an overweight young man who freeloads off his widowed mother, Irene. Ignatius charts an indictment of the Twentieth Century believing that medieval England provided the perfect forum for his intellect and values. This results in turmoil that nearly cripples the French Quarter and causes poor Irene countless heartaches. The title for this classic book about the Crescent City comes from the pen of Jonathan Swift: “When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in a confederacy against him.”

Unlike the sadness that dominated Toole’s short life, his book is uplifting and great comedy.

We knew little about Toole. However, a splendid biography, “Ignatius Rising,” (Louisiana State University Press), by Rene Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy, just appeared on retail shelves and is as interesting as the farce written by the young author. Be forewarned: read “A Confederacy…” before searching for aspects of Toole’s tragic few moments on this planet.

There is a statue of Ignatius on Canal Street a short distance from the posh Ritz Carlton. I still find myself laughing when I see it. Toole’s literary genius has everlasting impact, particularly if you happen to love New Orleans.



Read some of Doc's other reviews:

Rick Bragg's "Ava's Man"

Andrea Immer - "Great Wine Made Simple"

"An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government" - William C. Davis

Willie Morris' last novel "Taps"

Does New Orleans fascinate you? Learn more about:

Doc's favorite restaurants in the Big Easy,

Theatre in New Orleans,

The jazz funeral for Ernie K-Doe

Some interesting galleries of all kinds,

as well as Folk Art in the Crescent City.

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