After my interesting trip to the South I am adding another book and author to my list of inspirations, A Confederacy of Dunces by of John Kennedy Toole. His story is a tragic one. He (like David Foster Wallace) committed suicide thinking his book was a failure, after it was rejected by Robert Gottlieb who was an editor for The New Yorker and worked for Simon & Schuster. This just goes to show how often the New Yorker makes the wrong call.
I may at some point write some material in which I use A Confederacy of Dunces as an inspiration. I can see PG Wodehouse in the relationship between the main character and his mother. Although Ignatius is contemptuous of his mother, unlike Bertie who appreciates Jeeves, he is completely depending upon her. The treatment of the mother seems a little harsh at first, and the book takes some time and some effort to get into. After closing inspection the mother gives as good as she gets. I also read that his mother saved his manuscript for 11 years and resubmitted it again and this time the book was accepted. I wonder on how much the mother son relationship was based on his own relationship with his mother. I should read his biography at some point when I have time, there is one called The Butterfly in the Typewriter.
I was just shown by My Google Feed The Guardian article which defended Robert Gottlieb for rejecting the A Confederacy of Dunces. The article, which then was later retracted with an apology piece, gave every excuse under the sun, such as he was too busy to read every article or book, when the author of the article has no idea what if that was even in the case. Then the article goes on to say Robert Gottlieb wanted to “help” make the book more meaningful and suggested many changes and corrections. I am sure that these changes would have made the book worse. I don’t believe a writer should be forced to compromise his vision. I don’t know if the writer is some friend of Robert Gottlieb who is trying to make him look better, but it just does not convince me in the sightless, that his actions were any less abominable. Who appointed Robert Gottlieb the taste police who gets to pick what types of comedy the public finds amusing? He sat on and suppressed a work from publication with demands for changes. Then he stole ideas from A Confederacy of Dunces for another book.
It’s all in the series of articles if you wish to read them, but I am not linking to them as I don’t wish to endorse them by linking and taking you to a page with many ads. Many of these people they hire to write literary criticism are not insightful. They are only creating articles that are paid for by the word, and so they give too much information. The information given is mostly rehashes and summaries. What I am seeing is that the writer should have shopped his novel around to many other publishers. Things were different in the 60s, but could some kind of racism come into play with Gottlieb’s rejection of the novel? I am only suggesting this because it seems to me the novel is perfectly good and perfectly funny, and it’s not really about race. I have not even noticed as I am still in the process of going over the novel, anything racial coming into play. Had the novel been published, maybe the author would not killed himself and written another novel or a follow up? Never have I seen so great a case of literary injustice as the case of A Confederacy of Dunces. Any attempt to explain or excuse it seems to be a big mistake. I am talking about The Guardian Article which Google Feed keeps wanting me to read again as it keeps appearing.
Many actors have also been considered for the movie option such as John Candy who would have been my first choice, and John Belushi, who may have have also been able to nail the part. John Goodman is too nice a guy to take on the role. Now, they are looking for a younger and still living actor to play the part. I can’t think of anyone who could play it. The actor needs to be around 30 years old.
The Wikipedia article about Robert Gottlieb has also been suppressed with the Toole incident having been moved to the talk section of his entry, but you can still see it if you click on the talk and I have also saved the talk page to Archive Is, so you can search for it if the Talk Page is deleted. As soon as Robert Gottlieb dies, I assume this criticism can be moved to the main page. The talk page suggests even harshly of the blame for the suicide. Although Toole made changes at the request of Gottlieb, Gottlieb still refused to publish and said, he had lost interest in the novel. I am still puzzled as to why Toole accepted this untalented and useless “editor” as the only way to get his novel published.
I have finally read A Review of A Confederacy of Dunces which I feel is worthy of posting a link. The reviewer really takes apart the book and breaks it down in a way, that I am unable to do at this early stage in my research. I like to spend months and often years mulling something and go over it many times before I step out on a limb and review a book or a story. But, I will say this, there was a letter that Ignatius writes in the name of “Levy Pants,” that was so funny I had to laugh until I cried. This is the kind of book that takes repeated readings and maybe some research) to understand fully.
Note: Jonathan Rosenbaum did not write this review, but he reposted it, which made it accessible, so I thank him. I wonder if I could also repost it? But, I don’t want to steal his thunder.
Updated April 2, 2019
I have read most of The Butterfly in the Typewriter and it has only reinforced my first impression that Robert Gottlieb is not only a bad writer and editor, but a horrible human being. The correspondence between Gottlieb and Toole has been published another book, but The Butterfly Book summarized it. Gottlieb wrote to Toole that his book was unsellable and gave the story to another writer who wrote a book called Superworm. Superworm is about a man who dresses as a “Super Hero” like Captain Underpants. I don’t have an proof that Gottlieb stole the book, but the plot summary of Superworm in Butterfly made me believe it was true. Toole’s mother was a hero who tirelessly worked and not only got A Confederacy of Dunces published, but made sure that all of the Gottlieb Edits were not included. This gives us the pure and unspoiled version of Confederacy. Gottlieb never liked the book, and while pretending to be a helpful friend back stabbed him. Toole felt he could not publish his novel anymore. Everyone would think that he had stolen the idea from the Superworm book. Toole slowly began to lose his mind, and that lead to his suicide and death. If Confederacy had been published it would have been a huge hit, and I believe that self confidence would have given Toole a reason to live. Just reading about the whole affair is so upsetting that I have back off and only go over the matter small stages. There are several more books that I would like to read on the subject. One is about Toole and his mother. I think Toole’s suicide was even more tragic than David Foster Wallace’s. At least David Foster Wallace got to experience great success with Infinite Jest and to write more short stories and the unfinished novel The Pale King.
As part of my infinite protest I will never read anything writing by Gottlieb or the Superworm Book. I did read a short list written by Gottlieb of his “tips” for writers and he sounds like a complete ass filled with pompousness and undeserved self-praise. Gottlieb told Toole Confederacy was not about anything and that the characters had no growth and development. Character growth is unnecessary in a comic novel or in a postmodern novel. The idea that a story has to have a point, or character growth is completely outdated. In the New Yorker over the years, I have read a large number of short stories that started at a random point in time and stopped at a random point in time. The story stops when the writer feels like the story is finished. Most of them were not about anything other than tragic marginalized characters. Even if Gottlieb did not steal Confederacy and to give to the author of Superworm, what he did do was bad enough. Gottlieb will go down in history as Salieri to Toole’s Mozart.
I will admit the plot similarities between the two novels could have been a coincidence, but Toole believed that the book was stolen and that is what pushed him over the edge. His mother destroyed his suicide note, and she also destroyed other writings of Toole’s that may have given more of an explanation. Just like David Foster Wallace, Toole was working teaching English at a college, and the job became too stressful for him. He quit his job and money became tight. The publication of Confederacy and the revenue may have made a difference in Toole’s quality of life allowing him to quit teaching devote himself full time to writing. Toole left New Orleans and went on a road trip before he killed himself. I assume he wanted to see other places as part of his Bucket List. I wish there was more information about what he was thinking about as he traveled.
Updated April 14 2019
I still have not finished the book because I am trying to make the book last longer. Toole’s life story has such a negative impact on me, that it even interferes with my enjoyment of his book. My latest idea for a movie about Confederacy would be to combination biography and story. We would follow Toole’s life from childhood maybe in flashbacks. Occasional we would cut to scenes from the book. The ending would be with his suicide, and then following up about his mother. So many bio pics just end with the death of the person and never follow up with any of the aftermath. I hope someone steals this idea from me and makes into into a movie since I can’t do anything like that. I don’t even care about credit, as long as Toole’s story is told. I think his story has an important life lesson about suicide in particular suicide at a young age. Things can get better, but if you kill yourself you won’t even know that they got better. If you do know via some kind of afterlife, it would be very frustrating to be dead and unable to communicate with fans of your works. Fans will want to tell you how much they love your book and they can’t.
A Curse On Confederacy of Dunces?
This is the first time I heard of a Curse on Confederacy of Dunces and I think the body weight of the individuals may have had more to do with the early death then any curse. However, since the author did himself commit suicide, there could be some kind of curse at work.
“Chris Farley is said to have been cursed by three roles he had been rumored to have taken on or be involved with. Those roles were an adaptation of the novel A Confederacy of Dunces, portraying Atuk in an adaptation of the novel The Incomparable Atuk, and allegedly agreeing to star as comedian Fatty Arbuckle in a biographical film about the comedian. Also ‘cursed’ and dying young after being linked to these projects? John Belushi and John Candy.”
“Many overweight actors were interviewed for the movie, and the actors who died early were said to have lived rather unhealthy lifestyles.”
Updated April 27, 2019
Gottlieb objection to the book was addressed in the Biography of Toole called Ignatius Rising. But, I am not sure if that is even correct. It claims Gottlieb did not like the Jewish College Student character, but I don’t see anything wrong with her. She was a sort of proto beatnik type of girl. She writes a series of letters to Ignatius that are very insulting, and he writes equally insulting letters back.
We don’t get to know what cuts or ideas Gottlieb may of had. Did he not like the Jewish character for some reason? Did he want her cut out of the book? Did he want her to be different? I still don’t think this excuses his behavior.
Toole’s mother apparently destroyed the Gottlieb edits which should have been saved for research, but not used at all in the book. Looking at them would give me a better idea of what was going on. I think Gottlieb was trying to lead Toole down a primrose path and delay publication, so he could give the idea to the guy who wrote Superworm book. This person must of been some friend of his, but it’s very hard to say for sure. That could just be a conspiracy theory. If the article I read in which Gottlieb tries to explain himself was more specific to address this topic it would have been more helpful. If he just came out and said, “I don’t this this Jewish character and I demand you cut out or change her and then I publish the book,” that would have been much more clear. Then Toole would have either cut out the character or published. Later on such as in the Book Naked Lunch, a bonus edition could be published that contained the Jewish Character. Because everyone realizes that censorship of an artist’s work is wrong and the character was not offensive. Like all the characters in the book such as Jones, she is humorous and it’s not mean spirited.
I am not Jewish, but I went to the Jewish Community Center summer camp when I was five and I had a great time. When I was in high school, I applied to be a summer camp counselor at the same Jewish Community Center on Brotherhood Way in San Francisco. The place is now closed and defunct. I don’t remember the exact dates or even the year this incident happened. There was this man who was under 30 years old who was in charge of the hiring, and he was like “are you Jewish?” and I said, no. Then he got mad and starting saying that I was lying. I kept telling him that I was not Jewish. I was so stunned that I could not think of anything to say, as this was the first time this had happened to me. Later it would happen again and again. He was really mad because he thought I was lying, and I did not get the job. If this happened today I would have contracted employment discrimination. But, at the time there was not anyway for me to do that. I would have said, “I am not Jewish and I was not only not hired, but humiliated.”
I have held onto that grudge. If it’s just a mistake I tell them, but I have had some of them persist, so things will get very ugly fast. In the case of one individual, after repeating telling him, I was not Jewish I blocked him on Facebook and each time I ran into him I would pretend that he was invisible. If he spoke to me, I did not answer, and then I would walk away as fast as possible. He walked the streets of San Francisco a lot, and it seemed like I was always running into him in the Downtown Area. He was Chinese, but he had been brainwashed by some friends. They were girls who rented a room from him whom I knew. I know they put him up to this. He was easily influenced and he was not very intelligent and also mentally ill. They did not have the courage to say it to my face. I am sure everyone knows who is as he is local celebrity or he was one in the past. But, I don’t blame those girls, I blamed him for being so stupid and tactless. Manson’s followers are worse than Manson himself in a way, because they did want Manson wanted them to do.
I was raised with no religion at all, but I wanted to be a Christian, because most Italians are Catholic. I joined the Catholic Church, but after the priest scandales I started to going to other Christian Churches.