Tony's Reviews > Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Short, Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces

Butterfly in the Typewriter by Cory MacLauchlin
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Aug 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: biography
Read in August, 2012

BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of “A Confederacy of Dunces.” (2012). Cory MacLauchlin. ****.
This is an excellent biography of the writer, Toole, and how he ultimately came to write his only great work, “The Confederacy of Dunces.” If there are some of you out there who haven’t read this novel, you are in store for a real treat. Toole was born and raised in New Orleans. He was the apple of his mother’s eye, and she lavished all of the extras that the family could affort. His mother’s life could be a book in itself, though we get a flavor of her personality in this telling. Toole went to primary and secondary school in New Orleans, and graduated high school at the age of 16. After looking around and balancing what he and his family could afford, he enrolled at Tulane and received his B.A. From there, with the aid of a fellowship, he moved to New York and attended Columbia. He received his M.A. with highest honors and wanted to stay on and work for his PhD, but money – or lack of it – got in the way. His favorite professor tried to get him part-time teaching work at Hunter College on the other side of the island, but he ran into a catch-22. Hunter would only hire instructors with teaching experience. He ended up being drafted into the army, and was stationed in Puerto Rico, where he taught English to Puerto Rican troops. It was in Puerto Rico, during his spare time, that he wrote his novel. Returning to the states after his term was up, he submitted his novel to Simon & Shuster, to the attention of Robert Gottlieb, one of their distinguished editors. There followed several years of correspondence back and forth between the two: Gottleib asserting that he liked the novel but that it needed work. Toole ultimately took this long delay to mean that S & S would not publish his book. Why he didn’t send it off to other houses is not clear. He entered a deep fit of despondency and ultimately committed suicide. His mother found his manuscript and took it upon herself to see that it ultimately got published. She finally enlisted the help of Walker Percy, who stepped in and provided as much aid as he could. Most of the big publishing houses weren’t interested. The novel ultimately was published by LSU Press and became an immediate best seller. The novel received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981. The author of this book manages to provide details on all of the above, and attempts to give the reader a better look at Toole. The problem is that there isn’t much known about Toole other than reminiscenses from his small circle of friends. In spite of the lack of primary sources, a reasonable picture of the author emerges. Recommended.
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