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BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces Reviewed John Cowans of Bookpleasures.com
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John Cowans

Reviewer John Cowans: John was a University, College, and School English teacher for over 40 years, John Cowans now lives in retirement in Chester., Nova Scotia.

 
By John Cowans
Published on May 16, 2012
 

Author: Cory MacLauchlin

Publisher: Da Capo Press

ISBN: 978-0-306-82040-3





Author: Cory MacLauchlin

Publisher: Da Capo Press

ISBN: 978-0-306-82040-3

The author of A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, never lived to see his great work published in 1980; he died by his own hand in March 1969. Cory MacLauchlin’s Butterfly in the Typewriter is indeed the remarkable story of John Toole’s life, the mental collapse leading to his death, and the eventual publication of his novel, largely due to Toole’s mother Thelma’s efforts, eleven years later. It is interesting to note that Confederacy, often referred to as the great novel of New Orleans, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981 and has been since translated into more than 30 languages.

Cory Maclauchlin currently a member of the English Department of Germanna Community College in Virginia admits to New Orleans being his favourite city, and having witnessed the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, dedicated himself not only to telling a part of that city’s literary history, but also to helping rebuild the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard’s Parish by organizing groups of student volunteer workers.

John Kennedy Toole was born to a middle class family in New Orleans in 1937. His mother influenced his early years although at times their relationahip was difficult. He was educated at Tulane and Columbia Universities; he taught at Hunter College and at various Louisiana institutions,and by all accounts he was an excellent teacher. During his military service in Puerto Rico, he wrote A Confederacy of Dunces, a picaresque novel based on the mis-adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly, a misanthropic, self-styled scholar, but the character is also based on Toole himself and his personal experiences living in New Orleans.

Butterfly in the Typewriter is a masterful piece of research when one considers that the subject of the book died at the age of 31 having no publications at all. But it is this very fact that makes this story so compelling. MacLauchlin gives the reader a detailed account of Toole’s early life, his university experiences, his emerging years as a teacher and as a writer, his failed attempts to publish his first novel, his agonizing decline into madness ending in his tragic suicide. But all this is really prologue to the real story which unfolds in the years following his death. The manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces sat in a cardboard book for some years until John Toole’s mother, Thelma, began to circulate it amongst many unresponsive publishers, finally Thelma sought the help of Walker Percy who successfully introduced LSU Press in publishing what would  become a world-wide bestseller. The publication of Confederacy in 1980 and its subsequent success in the years following have secured John Kennedy Toole’s place in the foremost rank of American writers.

Butterfly in the Typewriter is a fascinating story and anyone interested in the literary world, or anyone struggling towards initial publication, should read this story and gain confidence and hope from it.

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