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“It is a great pity that John Kennedy Toole is not alive and well and writing. But he is not, and there is nothing we can do about it but make sure that this gargantuan tumultuous human tragi-comedy is at least made available to a world of readers.” —Walker Percy
When Walker Percy penned these prophetic words in his foreword to the first edition of A Confederacy of Dunces, he could not have known just how wide Toole’s “world of readers” would become. Released by Louisiana State University Press in April 1980, A Confederacy of Dunces is nothing short of a publishing phenomenon. Turned down by countless publishers and submitted by the author’s mother years after his suicide, the book won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Today there are almost two million copies in print worldwide in eighteen languages.
Toole’s lunatic and sage novel introduces one of the most memorable characters in American literature, Ignatius Reilly, whom Walker Percy dubs “slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one—who is in violent revolt against the entire modern age.” Ignatius’s ire explodes when his mother backs her car into another automobile. The owner of the damaged vehicle insists on payment; Mrs. Reilly demands that her son cease watching television and writing in his Big Chief tablet and get a job.
Set in New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces outswifts Swift, one of whose essays gives the book its title. As its characters burst into life, they leave the region and literature forever changed by their presences—Ignatius and his mother; Miss Trixie, the octogenarian assistant accountant at Levy Pants; inept, wan Patrolman Mancuso; Darlene, the Bourbon Street stripper with a penchant for poultry; Jones, the jivecat in spaceage dark glasses. Satire and farce animate A Confederacy of Dunces; tragic awareness ennobles it.
To celebrate the book’s twentieth anniversary in 2000, the writer and New Orleans resident Andrei Codrescu composed a new introduction that examines the relationship of this modern-day classic to the city whose pulse it brilliantly captures.
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