Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 3

Drug Addict and Drop-out as Saint

Toole possessed both Jack Kerouac's The Subterraneans (Evergreen edition) and Gore Vidal's Thirsty Evil (see Evidence of Influences version 1.2, pages 19 and 39)

In Subterraneans, the junky is described as ascetic or saintly (19) and idealist (21). Leo later describes Wallenstein: "his Christ-like blue unshaven cheeks" and "the same pitiless awful subterranean sort of non-violent Indian Mahatma Gandhi defense of some kind" (105).

The Thirsty Evil is a collection of short stories. In one of the stories, "Three Strategems," the character George is a young man kept for sex by a wealthy older woman, Hilda. He is compared to "an emaciated Christus" and "beneath the taut skin [...] I could see the regular twitchings of his heart" (14)

In another story, "Pages from an Abandoned Journal," the gay drug addict Elliott Magren, whose cheeks are streaked with tears because his eyes are hypersensitive, tells the narrator, Peter, that he has a duty to himself to live in the present. This conversation helps Peter come out of the closet as gay. Elliott is compared to Wilde. When the police arrest Elliott one morning for pedophilia and Elliot asks for Peter's help, Peter denies he knows him. When Elliott dies suddenly years later, it is discovered that he had a malformed heart. "He was buried Christmas Day in the Protestant cemetery close to Shelley" (121). Again, the author seems to portray him as saintly.

Thesis: Confederacy references and uses this tradition of "the drop-out as martyr" when Ignatius meditates on his situation and calls societies failures "the saints of our age" (chapter 9, part 4--page 195 in the 1980 edition of the book). Compare the theme within these three books.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Revised version of Evidence of Influences on John Kennedy Toole

Version 1.2 of Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer has been posted this morning.

The main reason that I have updated the paper is because I wanted to list more of the books that John Kennedy Toole had in his library. As I have worked on the "Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole" in this blog, I have discovered that some books that I now think are productive to John Kennedy Toole research were not listed in Evidence of Influences, version 1.1. To repair that oversight, I have produced version 1.2 of the paper. In order to preserve pagination of the other material, I have added the book list to an appendix. I will also paste that bibliography below.


Appendix A: More books listed in the Toole library

In the main text of this paper, this author listed in a footnote at the end of Part 1 books from the Faust bibliography of Toole’s library that he thought might be of interest to future researchers. He did not list all books that predated the writing of Confederacy. Since then, at least one of the neglected books has yielded interesting interpretations, so in the interest of further research, here are more pre-1964 books. They have been placed in this appendix so as to preserve the pagination between 1.1 and 1.2.

Allen, Frederick Lewis. The Big Change. New York: Bantam, 1961.
Anthony, Katherine. Queen Elizabeth. New York: Knopf, 1929.
Graves, Robert. Goodbye to All That. New York: Doubleday, 1957.
Kennedy, Gail. Pragmatism and American Culture. Boston: Heath, 1950.
McCarthy, Mary. The Group. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1963.
Spencer, Edmund. The political works of Edmund Spencer. New York: Oxford UP, 1921.
Tillyard, E. M. W. Elizabethan World Picture. London: Chatto and Windus, 1956.
Vidal, Gore. A Thirsty Evil. New York: Signet NAL, 1958.
Warren, Robert Penn. All the King’s Men. New York: Modern Library, 1953.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 2

Archy and transmigration
John Kennedy Toole owned a copy of archy and mehitabel by Marquis (Evidence of Influences, page 19). The underlying premise of that collection of stories and poems is that a former poet has died and his soul has transmigrated into the cockroach named archy. archy ostensively supplied newspaper columns to his boss, Marquis. Because he has to jump on keys to type, he cannot capitalize or use punctuation. mehitabel is his friend, a cat who claims to have the transmigrated soul of Cleopatra.

In Confederacy, Ignatius is characterized as beastly. He is usually compared to an animal and his hands are usually described as paws. It is as though he has the transmigrated soul of a dog or other animal.

Thesis: Compare the use of animal and human characteristics in archy and mehitabel and Confederacy. Note for example that Ignatius tries to play with a cat, then describes her as a prostitute; similarly, mehitabel is sexually liberal. Columns that I have found especially relevant are "the wail of archy" and "archy at the tomb of napoleon."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 1

The Sexual Neophyte

In an article which Toole wrote for Tulane's student literary magazine, he stated that Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye "continues to be one of the finest books of its type ever written." He then recommended a parody of the novel by Turner that appeared in Playboy magazine in July 1956 called "Catcher in the Wry." (See Evidence of Influences, page 17.) That parody features a sexually inexperienced youth who is tricked out of money while he is trying to hire a prostitute.

In the bibliography of Toole's library (Evidence of Influences, 4), there is a novel by Gover entitled One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding, which also features a sexually inexperienced man's misadventures in the world of prostitutes.

Thesis: Compare and contrast Ignatius Reilly's failure to rescue his imagined Boethian scholar and the failures in the Gover book and the Turner story.

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole

Introduction to the series

In the three years that I have been pursuing Toole studies, I have been mainly focused on a few large issues. The first is the influence of Chaucer and Robert Lumiansky (Evidence of Influences). The second is the influence of Ficino and Paul Oskar Kristeller (future paper). In the process, I have learned much about other possible influences on Toole. Specifically, I have made a side project of reading all of the books that evidently were in Toole's possession. One of the books was in the Toole Papers, and the others were in a bibliography written by Rhoda Faust that is in the Toole Papers. (See my paper Evidence of Influences for a list of books that Toole possessed that he could have read prior to his initial composition of Confederacy of Dunces.)

Through the process of reading Toole's library, I have discovered yet other connections between Confederacy and other works. I have neither the time nor interest in chasing down every connection and writing them all up as papers, but I would like to share my observations with the wider public. So I have decided to write in this blog an occasional series of possible topics for term papers regarding Confederacy and other literary works. I will give a brief context, and then offer the thesis. Students of Toole are then free to conduct their own investigations and find the connections for themselves.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Thanks

In the Evidence of Influences paper, I would also like to thank Joe Jackson, a librarian at Winona State University, for his advice regarding literary theory. His suggestion of the Eagleton book was very helpful.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another endorsement

William Bedford Clark of TAMU has also endorsed "Evidence of Influences."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Version of both Evidence of Influences and Obscure Bibliography

I have posted new versions of both Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer and A Critical Annotated Bibliography of Obscure Scholarship on John Kennedy Toole and A Confederacy of Dunces. Almost all of the changes to Evidence of Influences are corrections that are detailed already in this blog.

NOTE: For anyone quoting from version 1.0 of the Evidence of Influences, version 1.1 is slightly longer, so the pagination can be slightly different. The final page of version 1.1 lists all of the changes (mostly additions) to the 1.0 version of the paper.

Evidence of Influences (now 1.1) is still at:

Obscure Scholarship is at:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Another Toole study to add to Part I

In looking through my notes to finalize my latest publication, A Critical Annotated Bibliography of Obscure Scholarship on John Kennedy Toole,, I discovered a Toole study which had slipped through when I was compiling the list of comparisons made between A Confederacy of Dunces and other literary works.

Here is the citation and the information:

Woodland, James R. "in that City Foreign and Paradoxical": The Idea of New Orleans in the Southern Literary Imagination (Louisiana). Diss. U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1987.

As I wrote in the above bibliography,
Chapter Seven (302) discusses and compares Confederacy with Percy’s Moviegoer and Lancelot. Woodland cites Regan’s article comparing Moviegoer to Confederacy. Both Binx and Ignatius are in the culture but not of it (308, 325). In all three novels, insiders become outsiders. Woodland sees Ignatius Reilly as an native who is nevertheless an outsider like George Washington Cable’s Frowenfeld (325). Woodland also briefly compares Confederacy to Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (324, 326). He points out that in both, ethnic diversity is comforting rather than exotic, which ties in nicely to Lowe’s study of Confederacy’s relationship to ethnic melee comedy. He compares Ignatius’s outrage about the degeneracy of the French Quarter as being like Lance’s (327). In 1968, Percy wrote in an article in Harper's that the virtue of New Orleans was the talent for everyday life. Ignatius also finds in New Orleans a source of creature comforts, the hope of small things (328).

This study would be added to the section on Percy, the footnote on Tennessee Williams, and George Washington Cable would be added to the list of authors absent from the Toole Papers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

More thank yous

I have been negligent in my thanking persons who have helped me with the project. I need to also thank Eira Tansey and Susanna Powers for their help at Tulane University. Also, the correct library at Tulane is the Louisiana Research Collection, not the Special Collections Library.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Three corrections to Evidence of Influences already

Since the publication of Evidence of Influences on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, including Geoffrey Chaucer, I have run across three items so far that I would have fixed in the original text.

First, O'Connor's "Artificial Nigger" is a short story. I erroneously italicized the title rather than putting it in quotation marks. The error in format makes it appear as though it is a novel rather than a short story.

Second, in the long footnote at the end of part one of the paper, I tried to list every author to whom Toole has been compared in the published scholarly literature. I missed at least one author: Ruppersburg compared Ignatius Reilly to George Washington Harris's Sut Lovingood. Harris should be included in the list of authors who do not appear in the Toole Papers, along with others like Henry David Thoreau.

Third, Ruppersburg also suggests that Toole was influenced by T.S. Eliot (125). The only reference to Eliot in the Toole Papers was an answer to one question in a simple quiz for English 102 undated (box 2, folder 9).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"Evidence of influences" published to the Web

Hello Toole enthusiasts and scholars,

Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, including Geoffrey Chaucer
has now been published to the Web.

Though I have not published the study in a peer-review journal, I am inviting Toole Scholars to review it. In that sense, it is reviewed by peers. Currently, it is endorsed by

Here is the abstract:
This study uses the evidence held in John Kennedy Toole’s papers located at Tulane University to investigate many literary works and authors who may have been possible influences on his novel A Confederacy of Dunces (Confederacy). Authors and characters discussed here include Boethius, Chaucer, John Lyly, Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Cervantes, Jonathan Swift, the Romantic Poets, Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Walker Percy, J. D. Salinger, and Flannery O’Connor. The study then analyzes themes common to both Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Toole’s Confederacy, such as the use of the grotesque, the dynamics within intimate relationships, and the parody of romance. In Confederacy, Ignatius Reilly is an agent of Fortuna and fulfills a role occupied by the planetary god Saturn in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale. Some critics have called Toole’s outlook deterministic, while others have suggested that his attitude toward free will was influenced directly by Boethius. This study argues that he was not a determinist, and that his Boethian position on free will was derived indirectly through Chaucer.