Thelma <I>Ducoing</I> Toole

Thelma Ducoing Toole

New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA
Death 17 Aug 1984 (aged 82)
New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA
Burial New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA
Plot 19 Latanier Magnolia Hawthorne
Memorial ID 6492452 · View Source
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Literary Folk Figure. The mother of author John Kennedy Toole, she was responsible for bringing his unpublished novel "A Confederacy of Dunces" to light. Her efforts are an inseparable part of the book's reputation. Born Thelma Ducoing, she showed early talent as a pianist and singer, but after her 1925 marriage to John Dewey Toole she contented herself with giving private music lessons and performing at parties. Her son John (known as Ken to family and friends) was her only child and she doted on him almost obsessively. Their relationship became strained in the late 1960s, when Toole's lack of literary success compounded his already depressive temperament; and it was an argument with Thelma that triggered him to leave home in January 1969 for an aimless three-month journey that culminated in his suicide. He left a note, but Thelma destroyed it and never divulged its contents. In 1971 she discovered the battered typescript of "A Confederacy of Dunces" in a closet and began a one-woman crusade to get it in print. She sent it unsolicited to eight publishers, and got eight rejections. In 1976 she persuaded author Walker Percy to read what she proclaimed was her son's "masterpiece". To his surprise he fell in love with it and "A Confederacy of Dunces", with Percy's foreword, finally appeared in 1980, nearly 20 years after it was written and a decade after the author's death. It was a critical and commercial hit and won a 1981 Pulitzer Prize. The book made Thelma a minor celebrity and she relished the role, appearing in New Orleans parades and seizing every opportunity to talk about herself and her son. She mentioned the existence of a short novel Toole wrote as a teenager, "The Neon Bible", but because of Louisiana's Napoleonic inheritance laws - which meant she would have to share proceeds from the book with her husband's side of the family - she refused to release it. (She had previously persuaded her in-laws to give up their rights to "A Confederacy of Dunces" and they weren't going to make the same mistake twice). Thelma instructed her literary executor, W. Kenneth Holditch, to maintain this ban after her death, which he initially did, but the family filed a lawsuit which would have resulted in the manuscript being put up for public auction. To avoid this Holditch relented, and "The Neon Bible" was published in 1989.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: PZB
  • Added: 9 Jun 2002
  • Find A Grave Memorial 6492452
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Thelma Ducoing Toole (3 Sep 1901–17 Aug 1984), Find A Grave Memorial no. 6492452, citing Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .