Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review of Reference Book entries on John Kennedy Toole and Confederacy of Dunces

Although searching the Web and using Wikipedia has often displaced going to a library and using the reference collection to look things up, scholars still trust published reference books more than freely available Web resources. But that does not mean that every entry in a reference book is excellent.

Below is a review of the entries on John Kennedy Toole and Confederacy of Dunces from several reference books.

Berman, Milton and Tracy Irons-Georges. The Eighties in America. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2008.

The article on John Kennedy Toole is poorly written and largely dependent on the Nevils and Hardy book.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale Research Company.

This reference source has excerpts from articles about late 20th century or early 21st century literature in English. There are two volumes that have entries relating to Confederacy of Dunces.

volume 19: This entry contains excerpts from: Walker Percy’s introduction, book reviews from Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, NYT Book Review, TLS. These are representative of the initial reception of the novel by critical readers. No scholarly criticism here.

volume 64: This entry includes large excerpts from the scholarly articles by McNeil and Simmons (for citations, see Other References from my annotated bibliography of Toole research). It also has book reviews for Neon Bible. While reading these excerpts might give the user some ideas about the novel, I do not recommend using the scholarly excerpts in a paper, because they give different interpretation of the novel than the originals. For example, the main thesis of the McNeil article is not included in the excerpt and the reader would misunderstand McNeil without going back to McNeil's full article.

Magill, Frank N. (Frank Northen), and Tracy Irons-Georges. Cyclopedia of World Authors. 4th rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2004.

This article is good, but it was written before Fletcher's Ken and Thelma (2005) was published. It takes ideas from McNeil's 1984 article on Toole's use of reverse satire.

Travisano, Thomas. "The Confederacy of Dunces." In Masterplots II: American Fiction Series. Edited by Frank Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1986, I-319-324.

The summary and perspective are good but not excellent. The entry misses some aspects of the book. Travisano is correct that Confederacy has a traditional comic structure. The bibliography is very poor and should not be used.