A Confederacy of Dunces

This is the book Jess is reading when his girlfriend arrives to meet him.

A Confederacy of Dunces is a picaresque novel by John Kennedy Toole, written in 1963 but published in 1980, eleven years after Toole’s death by suicide. It became a cult classic, then a mainstream success, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. The title refers to an epigram from Jonathan Swift’s essay, Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

The protagonist of the novel is Ignatius J. Reilly, an educated but lazy thirty-year-old man living with his mother in the Uptown district of New Orleans in the early 1960s. He has been called a modern Don Quixote, an eccentric and idealistic slob who disdains pop culture, and believes that his numerous failings are the working of a higher power. Due to a car accident his mother gets in, Ignatius must work for the first time in many years to pay off her damages bill, moving from one low-paid job to another and having various adventures with colourful characters in the French Quarter of the city.

The novel is famous for its rich depiction of New Orleans and its dialects, many locals seeing it as the best and most accurate fictional depiction of the city. A bronze statue of Ignatius J. Reilly is on Canal Street in New Orleans. It has been adapted for the stage, including as a musical comedy, and has often been planned as a film. These various attempts to adapt it for the screen have come to nothing (often with the slated lead actor dying, and once with a studio head being murdered, not to mention Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans in 2005), leading to the belief there is a “curse” on it as a film project.

The novel’s title is a comment on how Rory and Lorelai see Jess and his girlfriend in this scene, as a pair of “dunces” who can barely hold a conversation together. However, it is also believable as a modern American classic that Jess might read, complete with a male protagonist who is an intelligent failure railing against the world, his fate, and modern life. This seems to be the sort of hero that Jess can relate to. Note that it’s also set in the American South – a literary setting which Rory is also drawn to, underlining how much they have in common.

Nell

SOOKIE: So how are you planning on telling [your parents about Christopher]?

LORELAI: I thought I’d do it like Nell. You know, chicka chicka chickabee.

Lorelai refers to the 1994 drama film Nell, directed by British director Michael Apted, and starring Jodie Foster as Nell Kellty, a young woman who has to face people for the first time after being raised by her mother in an isolated cabin. It is based on the play Idioglossia by Mark Handler, inspired by his experiences living in the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest, and by identical twins Grace and Virginia Kennedy (born 1970), who invented their own language. Their story is told in the 1980 documentary Poto and Cabengo (the twins’ own names for themselves).

In the film, Nell likewise speaks her own language in a strange and unique accent. She says “Chicka chicka chickabee”, which is her way of saying “dear one, beloved” (a variation on chickadee and chickabiddy, both used as endearments in some regions of the US).

Nell was a commercial success and received mixed reviews, with Foster’s performance being warmly praised.

Oscar Wilde

SOOKIE: What do you think, manly [holding up statue]?

LORELAI: In an Oscar Wilde sort of way, absolutely.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), Irish poet and playwright, and one of the most popular playwrights in London in the early 1890s. Best remembered for his sparkling comedies, witty epigrams, and his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890).

At the height of his fame and success, while his play The Importance of Being Ernest (1895) was still being performed in London, Wilde prosecuted the Marquess of Queensberry (the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas) for libel, but the trial unearthed evidence that led to Wilde’s arrest for indecency with men and boys. He was convicted and sentenced to two years’ hard labour, and imprisoned from 1895 to 1897. On his release, he left for France, and never returned to Ireland or Britain.

The statue that Sookie holds up appears to be a cherub or some other sort of nude small boy. It certainly doesn’t look butch, but Lorelai seems to be saying, not so much that the statue seems “gay”, as slightly paedophilic, because of the subject matter.

Oscar Wilde did take teenagers as young as fourteen as his lover, although to my knowledge, not small children like the statue seems to be (Wilde’s trial was based on his activities with males because of their gender, not specifically with their ages). The full details of Wilde’s case had been published in 2001, with many people shocked, or at least uncomfortable, with how extensive Wilde’s interest in much younger males had been – something which would have seen Wilde imprisoned in our time as well. This may be what Amy Sherman-Palladino had in mind when she wrote this scene.

You’re Just in Love

The song Miss Patty and Babette together at the wedding, while Morey plays piano. It’s a popular 1950 song by Irving Berlin, first performed by Ethel Merman and Russell Nype in the Broadway musical Call Me Madam; Merman later reprised her role for the 1953 film version, featuring the song as a duet with Donald O’Connor [pictured]. The song has been recorded several times, most successfully by Perry Como and the Fontana Sisters, who reached #5 in the charts for 1950.

The lyrics of the song give the message, You’re not sick, you’re just in love – a callback to Rory crying that she must be “sick” to have cut school to see Jess in New York. Now Lorelai has done something even more questionable, and the song is telling the Gilmore girls (and Jess?) that they’re not sick in the head, they are simply in love.

Brigadoon

CHRISTOPHER: Please, I saw what your face was doing … It was counting up how many Brigadoon references you could come up with to torture him with at a later date.

Brigadoon, a 1954 musical film directed by Vicente Minelli, based on the 1949 Broadway musical of the same name by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The film stars Gene Kelly, Van Johnson, and Cyd Charisse and is about two American tourists on a hunting trip in Scotland who get lost in the woods and discover a miraculous village named Brigadoon, which rises out of the mists for one day every hundred years.

The film received lacklustre reviews and failed at the box office – unlike the stage musical, which was a big success.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

RORY: I guess the thought of just being nice to people never occurred to you, huh?

PARIS: See, that is exactly what I need from you, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm for the new millennium. Hey, wear some braids tomorrow with bows. I mean, hell, let’s sell it, sister!

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, a 1903 classic children’s book by Kate Douglas Wiggin. The main character is Rebecca Rowena Randall, an imaginative and charming little girl from a poor family, sent to live with her aunts, Miranda and Jane Sawyer, in the fictional village of Riverboro, Maine. Miranda is stern with Rebecca, while Jane is kindly and finds Rebecca’s lively nature refreshing. However, Aunt Miranda will eventually prove how much she values Rebecca.

Like Rory, Rebecca is a brunette from a small town, and eventually becomes a very good student, especially in English, as well as talented writer.

The book was turned into a stage play, and was made into a film three times, most notably in 1938, starring Shirley Temple. However, Paris seems to be describing the book rather than a film, as the films don’t show Rebecca with the braids and bows of the book, preferring curly-headed heroines.

Shaun Cassidy

LORELAI: Yeah, I never leave home without all the essentials: mirror, makeup, picture of Shaun Cassidy.

Shaun Cassidy (born 1958), singer, actor, writer, and producer. He is the son of Oscar-winning actress Shirley Jones and Tony Award-winning actor Jack Cassidy, the half-brother of David Cassidy from The Partridge Family, and the brother of actor Patrick Cassidy.

While still in high school, he signed a record contract and forged a career as a teen pop idol. His biggest hit was “Da Doo Ron Ron”, which went to #1 in 1977. At the same time, he starred in The Hardy Boys Mysteries on television, and had a role on General Hospital.

During the 1980s and 1990s he concentrated on stage acting, performing on Broadway and in the West End. He wrote his first television pilot in 1995 while appearing in Blood Brothers on Broadway alongside David Cassidy, and has gone on to have a successful career as a screenwriter and TV producer.

Lorelai implies she had a crush on Shaun Cassidy when she was a little girl, although also, a bit oddly, that her make-up routine dates to the same period, when she would have been aged 8 to 12. This actually makes more sense for someone Amy Sherman-Palladino’s age, as she would have been around 14 at the end of Cassidy’s pop star career.

It sometimes feels as if the Palladinos forget that the small age gap between them and their fictional character Lorelai would still make a difference in the childhood years, and they can’t just give Lorelai all Amy’s childhood memories.

Slaughterhouse-Five

This is the book Jess is reading in this episode, that he tells Luke is not for school.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a 1969 semi-autobiographical science-fiction anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut. The story, told in a non-linear fashion by an unreliable narrator, relates the life and experiences of a man from upstate New York named Billy Pilgrim, from his early years to his service during World War II, and post-war years – his experiences include time travel and alien abduction. The book centres on Billy’s capture by the German Army, and his survival of the Allied firebombing of Dresden as a prisoner-of-war.

Categorised as a postmodern, metafictional novel, it is characterised by Vonnegut’s signature style, with simple sentences underpinning a text of irony, sentimentality, black humour, and instruction. The short, declarative sentences give the impression of reading a factual report, while the focus shifts between the writer’s perspective as someone who met Billy Pilgrim to an omniscient third person narrator. The first sentence is, “All this happened, more or less”. It is considered one of the best first lines in American fiction. The sentence, “So it goes”, is used as a repetitive refrain throughout.

Slaughterhouse-Five received mostly positive reviews, and became a bestseller, staying on the New York Times Bestseller List for sixteen weeks. It has been adapted for stage and radio, and been turned into both a film and a graphic novel.

The novel is controversial, with many attempts of censorship against it, especially in school and college libraries. This makes Jess’ reading of it at school seem like a deliberate attempt to draw attention to himself. A story about someone who has been through terrible trauma until they find life meaningless seems to be something which Jess relates to.

The Pigeon Sisters and Opus

PARIS: I’m sorry, group leader, could you ask the Pigeon sisters if there is a point to this opus?

The Pigeon sisters are characters from the film The Odd Couple, previously mentioned. They are English sisters named Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon who live in the same building as Felix and Oscar. They were played by cousins Monica Evans and Carole Shelley in the original Broadway play, the film, and the 1970 sit-com, although their roles were gradually phased out in the television show.

The Pigeon sisters are friendly, flirtatious, ditzy, and as their name suggests, slightly bird-brained, rather like Louise and Madeline. Paris has no problem tearing down her friends in public; no wonder that Rory isn’t sure whether Paris is her friend or not.

An opus is an artistic work, especially one on a grand scale.