A Confederacy of Dunces Archive

John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces is a cult classic, and its many devotees will be interested to know about a scarce letter and archive that goes under the hammer on June 15. Sotheby's New York is offering a letter written on January 7, 1963 by Toole to close friends Pat (Patricia), Rick (Milton), and Gordon Rickels. Upon her death in 2009, Dr. Patricia Rickels willed the letter to a friend, who has now consigned it to auction. It is, said Sotheby's, the first Toole letter at auction in thirty years.

SothebysTooleLetter.jpgThe letter's current owner, a Louisiana resident and himself an avid collector of historical and political materials related to Louisiana who wishes to remain anonymous, said he believes that Dr. Rickels had absolutely no concept of the monetary value of the items, and that she would not have cared about that anyway, as the real value to her lay in the memories that the items represented. "I don't even think that she knew that the letter still existed. It was tucked amongst a lifetime of other collected correspondence with items from the same era. By the time A Confederacy of Dunces was published I am sure that she had forgotten about the letter and that it had never even been removed from the drawer were it was placed in 1963."

TooleBooks.jpgThe lot at Sotheby's, estimated at $10,000-15,000, contains not only the autograph signed letter but a first edition of Confederacy in its dust jacket, Patricia Rickels' copy of The New Orleans Review from 1978 containing the first published excerpt of the novel, and a "compliments slip" from Toole's mother. There are also ten children's books previously owned by Toole (seen above), including three with inscriptions. Said the current owner, "These were very important to Dr. Rickels because Toole gave these to her son Gordon in 1960. Gordon was killed in an auto accident in 1983, just as Confederacy was at its apex. So the books were both a blessing - a reminder of a special time - but also painful because of the tragically early deaths of her friend Toole and son Gordon." He added, "I simply do not have the same sentimental attachment to the Toole items ... Ultimately it was a very difficult decision to sell the items, but one that is easier knowing that the items will be appreciated and valued."

Since the novel won the Pulitzer in 1981, and given the scarcity of Toole material, that auction estimate may prove conservative. There is hope that Hollywood types, some of whom have been trying to make a film adaptation of Confederacy for years, might join the bidding. Just last week, actor Zach Galifianakis was reported as trying to jumpstart a Confederacy movie.

The current owner plans to follow the auction from Louisiana.

Letter image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Books image courtesy of a private collector.