UL Lafayette purchases ‘Confederacy of Dunces’ manuscript
LAFAYETTE (AP) — Photographs of John Kennedy Toole as a teenager and a photocopied manuscript of his novel “A Confederacy of Dunces” with handwritten corrections now belong to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The pictures show Toole — an associate professor of English at Lafayette from 1959-60 — as a teenager in Mississippi with his friend Cary Laird, who was given the manuscript by Toole’s mother.
The UL Lafayette Foundation bought the items at auction earlier this month at Sotheby’s, with a hammer price of $25,000, the university said Wednesday. The total price, including buyer’s premium, was $31,250, according to the company’s website.
The school plans to use them and other Toole artifacts for study, research, exhibition and in a symposium being planned for next year.
No original manuscript of the novel exists, the university’s news release said.
Toole killed himself in 1969, at the age of 31.
Sotheby’s estimated that the copied 290-page manuscript was from about 1966. However, biographer Cory MacLauchlin said it may be a copy of one typed while his mother, Thelma Toole, was working to get her son’s book published after his death.
MacLaughlin said he has examined the manuscript and thinks its original may have been typed in the 1970s after Thelma Toole brought a badly smudged version to novelist Walker Percy, who eventually convinced LSU Press to consider the book. It was published in 1980 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981.
MacLaughlin’s book, biography “Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of ‘A Confederacy of Dunces,’” was published last year.
He said that regardless of the manuscript’s date, the acquisition is interesting for its source and the photographs.
They were taken in McComb, Miss., on one of Toole’s rare trips as a boy outside of New Orleans — a trip that was the inspiration for Toole’s first and less-known novel “The Neon Bible,” said MacLauchlin.
He said that book, set in rural Mississippi, was written soon after the trip with Laird.
“It was his first experience on a farm. He was just a city boy and had never really been out of New Orleans,” said MacLaughlin.
The young author entered the book in a writing contest. Another book won, and “The Neon Bible” did not surface again until several years after “A Confederacy of Dunces” was published.
Laird died a few years ago, MacLauchlin said, and his sister — from whom MacLaughlin learned about the photos — inherited the manuscript copy and photos.