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A Confederacy of Dunces (2)

I took notes on this book last December while in Michigan, but having recently visited New Orleans, I'm compelled to share a few more observations on this, my favorite novel.

A description of the uptown neighborhood where the 30-year old Ignatius lives with his mom:

"It was a neighborhood that had deteriorated from Victorian to nothing in particular, a block that had moved into the twentieth century carelessly and uncaringly - and with very limited funds."

Ignatius's mom, Irene Riley, and a few other characters are what I guess are called Yat speakers, from "Where y'at?" meaning, where are you in life; how are you doing?

"My nerves is shot." (Ignatius: "my nerves are nearing total decay.")
"My heart's broke."
"Nobody else got a valve but you. I ain't got no valve."
"Ignatius, get a holt of yourself."
"You gonna go try somewheres t'morrow."
"They's bread in the icebox."
"Listen, Santa, why you called, sugar?"
"They all crazy from the wine if you ast me."
"I'll ast over by the beer parlor." "I bought it by Lennie's" ("by" for "at")
"she got her a headache."
"who they got laid out in there?" "They waking Old Lady Lopez."
"It seem like every night she & him was putting on a regular hootenanny."

oyster = erster
children = chirren
hi-fi = hi fly
rinse = wrench
electric = letrit
sink = zink

Ignatius and his valve. Theme for a thesis some other day.

As I probably said before somewhere, one of the charms of the book is the way that it captures different dialects or registers of New Orleans speech. This is perhaps something that O'Toole got from Mark Twain, who writes in the introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

“In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding”

Whatever may be the secret debts that Kennedy Toole owed to Mark Twain, a running joke in the novel is Ignatius's disdain for the creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn:

"Mark Twain preferred to lie supinely in bed while composing those rather dated and boring efforts which contemporary scholars try to prove meaningful. Veneration of Mark Twain is one of the roots of our current intellectual stalemate."

"Does she think I'm one of those perverse Mark Twain characters?"

"that dreary fraud, Mark Twain"



May 2019



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