Eternally waiting out in front of New Orleans’ Hyatt Centric, the dumpy looking bronze figure of Ignatius J. Reilly pays homage to one of the greatest satirical novels ever written.
Ignatius J. Reilly is the main protagonist in John Kennedy Toole’s comedic masterwork A Confederacy of Dunces. In the novel Reilly bumbles around a slightly fictional New Orleans, running into a menagerie of local color essentially mythologizing the city of New Orleans. With the strong narrative ties to the city, it is no wonder that the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel would be honored on its streets.
The statue stands outside of the former D.H. Holmes Department Store which is where the first scene of the book also takes place. In the story, Ignatius is waiting for his mother under the store’s clock in his trademark cap, and in real life the statue is unmistakable in the iconic get-up.
A Confederacy of Dunces was released in 1980, and while its popularity has only grown in literary circles, many passersby at the statue have no idea who it represents. It is often also thought to have been removed, but it is simply moved inside during Mardi Gras so that the poor schlub does not get damaged.
Toole had his manuscript repeatedly rejected and at the age of 31, he died by suicide. Thelma Toole, his mother, finally got the book published 11 years later and Toole subsequently won a posthumous Pulitzer prize.