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Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole [Hardcover]

Rene Pol Nevils , Deborah George Hardy
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 27 2002
The phenomenal success of John Kennedy Toole’s comic masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces, is now legendary, a story that has long beckoned a deeper exploration into the life, imagination, and demise of the writer responsible for one of American literature’s most memorable characters—Ignatius J. Reilly. In Ignatius Rising, René Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy present the first biography of Toole, drawing upon scores of interviews with contemporaries of the writer and acquaintances of his influencing mother, Thelma, as well as unpublished letters, documents, and photographs. Frank yet sympathetic, Ignatius Rising deftly describes a life that is dark, tragic, bizarre, and amazing—but luminous with the gift of laughter, a life not unlike those of Toole’s beloved characters, now loved the world over.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Library Journal

By now, the tale of Toole's sprawling comic novel of New Orleans, A Confederacy of Dunces, lives on as a modern literary legend. A young novelist writes what he thinks is his masterpiece, is rejected by a famous New York publisher, and commits suicide only to be published posthumously and win the Pulitzer. But in this almost hagiographic account, first-time authors Nevils and Hardy reveal a story that is not quite so simple. Raised in New Orleans by a mostly distant and later mentally disturbed father and a clinging mother, Toole developed the love of reading early. When he finished Confederacy, he sent it to Simon and Schuster, where the famous Robert Gottlieb championed the manuscript and encouraged Toole to make some changes so that the book would be more publishable. Toole refused, asked for the manuscript back, and eventually descended into depression and paranoia, blaming Gottlieb for the novel's failure. After his death, his mother urged Walker Percy to publish Confederacy. The rest is history. Here, mother and son seem to have stepped right out of the Southern Gothic of a Tennessee Williams play, but this is a sad tale of one family's descent into despair and lonely ascent into posthumous fame. Recommended for most collections, especially where Confederacy is popular. Henry Carrigan, Lancaster, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but undistinguished May 23 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The person who said "great subject, poor execution" pretty much nailed it. I enjoyed finally learning in detail about the background of Toole and the circumstances under which the novel was written, but this is basically a dry assemblage of facts with no real sense of Toole as a person or an artist. The correspondence between Toole and Gottlieb also says nothing enlightening about why Simon and Schuster wouldn't publish Confederacy and the authors don't even attempt a hypothesis beyond "they didn't like the Myrna Minkoff character very much". My own feeling has always been that Toole was ahead of his time. His brand of satire was far too dark and biting for the 1960s, and I think if the book had been published then there would have been an extremely negative public reaction to it - which might have been even worse for Toole than not being published at all. Either way, given the struggles he was having with depression and alcoholism it's unlikely he would have survived long enough for his true audience to emerge at the end of the following decade.
Note to the guy who thinks Thelma was the "ghostwriter" of Confederacy because her letter-writing style is so much like Ignatius Reilly's - you're overlooking the obvious. Thelma wrote letters to her son the entire time he was in Puerto Rico working on the first draft of the novel. Where do you think he got it from? Thelma may have acted as a sort of twisted Muse to Toole, but I highly doubt she was capable of conceiving of such a masterpiece of comic writing, much less committing it to paper. I suppose we should be grateful towards her for finally getting it into print, even if she was motivated by her own ego as much as anything else.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Informative Dec 28 2001
Format:Hardcover
I finished Ignatius Rising very quickly, maybe because of my great interest in the book A Confederacy of Dunces. There is certainly a wealth of information here for the Dunces fan. I must say right off that Gottlieb ,the N Y editor, seemed to want the book to be perfect or maybe was just making excuses because something in the book offended him. I didn't feel he was really trying to help Toole, more like just stringing him along. The authors here play down that Gottlieb might have been offended with something in the book and therefore didn't give it it's due consideration. I still don't buy that, after all Gottlieb read the m.s. so he must have realized that Dunces was a masterpiece. I think editors having so much power over an artist's work can be a little intoxicating and blinding, at least this may have prooved true for the editor in question here. I don't really know of course and there are still unanswered questions in this regard upon completing this informative work. There are facts here I never knew, like there being an earlier version of Dunces with Ignatius being called something else. Towards the end of the book the tragic visitation of Toole's depression makes for tough reading. The authors deserve a lot of credit for digging out this much info on Dunces and Toole. I just can't say after reading this tragic story that I walk away from this book with an all together good feeling.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A noble failure, much like the novel Sept. 19 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
A quick perusal of "Ignatius Rising" reveals why it has taken so long to produce a even the thinnest of biographies on the man behind "Confederacy of Dunces." With the exception of the story behind how the novel got published (which only occupies the book's last pages), there's nothing at all remarkable about Mr. Toole's sad, mundane life. The authors try valiantly to dig up research and credible eye witnesses to shed some light on the mysterious Mr. Toole, but they are not entirely successfully. How else can you explain why we are forced to read--in their entirety--so many of Mr. Toole's redundant letters home from the Army?
The correspondence between Gottlieb and Toole, however, is worth the price of the book, and that's why I recommend it to friends. Mr. Gottlieb has the distinction of being the only person in publishing who was in a position to evaluate Mr. Toole's manuscript based on its merits. His sensitive yet honest appraisal of the book is, in my humble opinion, right on. "Dunces," in its published form, is a funny but highly flawed novel, certainly not worthy of the lavish praise and prizes that were bestowed upon it by those intrigued by the book's tragic circumstances.
I trust that even if other readers don't agree with Mr. Gottlieb, they'll at least see him in the light of truth rather than as the cariacture created by Mr. Toole's demented mother.
The authors are to be congratulated for doing their best with very little material. I finished the book with a better understanding New Orleans society. Alas, I wish I also had a better understanding of Mr. Toole.
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Format:Hardcover
"A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head."
"Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache."
Between those sentences lies "A Confederacy of Dunces," the masterpiece of John Kennedy Toole, a mystery of which for me has always been how any mere human could have come up with that set of fabulous characters, that amazingly original dialogue, those brilliantly off-beat and hysterically funny situations.
It's pretty clear now, with Nevils and Hardy's terrific biography of John Kennedy Toole, "Ignatius Rising," that we'll have to settle for as much "how" as they've been able to come up with, for this book is a masterwork of plumbing. While there is in the biography lots and lots about all other aspects of his interesting life, the genesis of his writing gift (I agree with Dan Acker below) is securely hidden. But I'm not sure we should want to know how Toole was able to materialize, for instance, combinations such as the following:
"Envy would gnaw at Myrna's musky vitals." Or "Ignatius emitted a little Paradise gas."
Or, on a banner, "Crusade for Moorish Dignity."
To choose just one of the many things "Ignatius Rising" IS able to uniquely provide regarding Toole and his life, Nevils and Hardy's discussion of the Simon and Schuster episodes, as particular and unusual as they were, has provided clues, at least, as to how getting a book published works. I had no idea that any publisher, let alone one of Robert Gottlieb's stature, even then, would take the time he did to encourage a new writer not yet signed to a contract.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Great subject, poor execution.
I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. However, the writing is about what you would expect from two women (who remarkably resemble Mrs. Read more
Published on March 24 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and inspiring despite the outcome
I've heard it said, "How said that we are cheated out of what Toole 'might' have written had he not taken his own life." I, too was depressed by this thought. Read more
Published on March 4 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Truth Stranger than Fiction
Probably the best the authors could do given the circumstances. Great character description (esp. Thelma). Very interesting Belushi anecdote.
Published on Aug. 10 2003 by K. McNamara
4.0 out of 5 stars Learn the twisted story behind Toole's life and death
Any fan of Confederacy of Dunces should naturally have an interest learning about the author, John Kennedy Toole. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2002 by Chris Frost
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, depressing
This is a mostly sad tale about a very talented writer. It really shows the dominace his mother had over him and how conflicted he was about who he was, which in the end was... Read more
Published on April 3 2002 by M. Pickering
1.0 out of 5 stars What a shame!
This book was a terrible disappointment. The authors are apparently barely literate. How the heck did they get a book contract? Read more
Published on Dec 21 2001 by Roy Sherwood
2.0 out of 5 stars Good Research BUT...
A boring life makes for a tedious bio. And the lack of an index is inexcusable.
Published on Oct. 10 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Look at a Tormented Soul
Ever since I read "A Confederacy of Dunces" and heard the legend about how it got published, I have been interested in the character of its author. Read more
Published on Aug. 29 2001 by debra crosby
5.0 out of 5 stars Ignatius Rising: At Last
I've waited a long time to learn more about the enigmatic and very talented John Kennedy Toole who wrote my favorite humorous novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. Read more
Published on Aug. 14 2001 by Leona Lee
5.0 out of 5 stars Ignatius Rising
This is such a wonderful, compelling book. It's clearly written, but the authors step back enough to give their subject matter its due. Read more
Published on July 31 2001 by J. Thilmany
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