“When a true genius appears in the world,
You may know him by this sign, that the dunces
Are all in confederacy against him.”
—Jonathan Swift, “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”
“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.”
So enters one of the most memorable characters in American fiction, Ignatius J. Reilly. John Kennedy Toole’s hero is one, “huge, obese, fractious, fastidious, a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures” (Henry Kisor, Chicago Sun-Times).
Ignatius J. Reilly is a flatulent frustrated scholar deeply learned in Medieval philosophy and American junk food, a brainy mammoth misfit imprisoned in a trashy world of Greyhound Buses and Doris Day movies. He is in violent revolt against the entire modern age. Ignatius’ peripatetic employment takes him from Levy Pants, where he leads a workers’ revolt, to the French Quarter, where he waddles behind a hot dog wagon that serves as his fortress.
A Confederacy of Dunces is an American comic masterpiece that outswifts Swift, whose poem gives the book its title. Set in New Orleans, the novel bursts into life on Canal Street under the clock at D. H. Holmes department store. The characters leave the city and literature forever marked by their presences—Ignatius and his mother; Mrs. Reilly’s matchmaking friend, Santa Battaglia; Miss Trixie, the octogenarian assistant accountant at Levy Pants; inept, bemused Patrolman Mancuso; Jones, the jivecat in spaceage dark glasses. Juvenal, Rabelais, Cervantes, Fielding, Swift, Dickens—their spirits are all here. Filled with unforgettable characters and unbelievable plot twists, shimmering with intelligence, and dazzling in its originality, Toole’s comic classic just keeps getting better year after year.
Released by Louisiana State University Press in April 1980 and published in paperback in 1981 by Grove Press, 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 over 1,500,000 copies in print worldwide in eighteen languages.