(Photo: Ignatius J. Reilly bronze statue on Canal Street. | Todd Murray | CC Flickr)
John Kennedy Toole, late author of Confederacy of Dunces, was born on this day, Dec. 17, 1937 in New Orleans. Happy Birthday.
Toole’s novel is considered an original fictional piece and hailed as a Southern comedic classic. The book is praised for its picturesque and highly accurate descriptions of people, sounds and sights in the French Quarter and beyond at the time.
Ignatius J. Reilly, the story’s protagonist, is a slightly overweight, anti-modern and somewhat delusional 30-something-year-old man living with his mom and who blames his misfortune on the world around him. Yet he became so loved by the people of New Orleans that they erected a bronze statue of him in front the Hyatt Centric hotel in the 800 block of Canal Street, along the French Quarter side, in 1996.
But Toole would not ever live to see the success of his work.
Much of Dunces was written in the early 1960s while Toole served a two-year U.S. Army stint in Puerto Rico.
Toole’s attempts to publish his book were unsuccessful. Despite interest from Simon and Schuster, Toole became disillusioned with the editing process and fell into a deep depression.
In the years following the rejections, Toole’s became increasingly erratic and paranoid. He committed suicide in Biloxi, Miss. on March 26, 1969 at the age of 31, after running a garden hose from the exhaust pipe into the cab of his car.
Coincidentally, Toole died on the birthday of Tennessee Williams, a famed playwright who wrote the “Vieux Carre” script from his apartment located at 722 Toulouse St.
For the next five years, Toole’s mother, Thelma, pushed for the publication of his novel and was ultimately successful in getting it published under Louisiana State University Press in 1980. Thelma died in 1984.
The following year, in 1981, Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.