Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Reilly House

The Reilly House
Toole was pretty specific when he talked about where the Reilly house was located. He says that when Patrolman Mancuso reached Constantinople St., “he turned toward the river,” which is to the south. The house was “the tiniest structure on the block” and a “frozen banana tree, brown and stricken, languished against the front porch, the tree preparing to collapse as the iron fence had done long ago.” Toole also said, “near the dead tree there was a slight mound of earth and a leaning Celtic cross cut from plywood.” This was the resting place of Ignatius’ beloved dog, Rex.
Patrolman Mancuso found that the Plymouth was “parked in the front yard” and “its taillights blocking the brick sidewalk.”
This places the Reilly House squarely in the Touro neighborhood, which is a sub-district of the Uptown Area of New Orleans. Over the years, this neighborhood has changed a great deal. It was once a relatively poor area, with depressed home values and a working-class flavor. Today, gentrification has changed the face of the neighborhood and most of the houses have been heavily renovated. While most of this area of New Orleans was spared by the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina, there was significant damage. Most structures sustained at least some damage from the high winds. Even now, construction dumpsters can be seen on almost every street.
I’ve gone up and down Constantinople St., looking at “tiny structures” and I think I may have found the best candidate for the Reilly House.
Here we have a house that is the tiniest on the block, with an iron fence, and a small front yard. Of course, there is no dying banana tree, but there is a front porch. Speaking of the front porch, Patrolman Mancuso “climbed the worn brick steps” to get to the front door. Last, but not least, notice that there’s a brick sidewalk out front. If you were to park a 1946 Plymouth in the yard, its taillights could block the sidewalk. Take a look…

Toole mentioned an alley that was next to the house, but there doesn’t appear to be one at this house. Of course, alleys are sometimes closed up and annexed by the adjacent property owners and that may have happened in this case. I wasn’t able to find a small house sitting directly next to an alley.
But there is a house with a second story right next door where Ms. Annie could yell down to Ignatius to be quiet…

Here’s another good candidate for the Reilly House, but there’s no brick sidewalk…

Here are a couple of good looking smaller houses, but they appear to be about the same size. The Reilly House was the tiniest on the block.

Here are a couple more. Note the construction dumpsters…


  1. Hello All . . .

    Marvelous blog. I live in a house owned by the family of Bobby Byrne from 1945 to 1973, where the late Mr. Byrne spent the final years of his youth, and where he stayed when he returned to New Orleans for fun and vacations while teaching in Lafayette, Louisina. Toole also taught English, on the staff with Byrne, at what was then Southwestern Louisiana State University, for four years. After that, Toole was in the military, in Puerto Rico, teaching English to potential Puerto Rican officers. It was the most structured environment he'd ever experienced, and likely where most of the writing of Confederacy took place. With memories of Bobby Byrne fresh on his mind, Toole wildly expanded his colleague's manners and characteristics into what we know as Ignatius. See "Ignatius Rising" by Rene Pol Nevils and Deborah George Hardy; and "Ken and Thelma: A Story of A Confederacy of Dunces" by Joel L. Fletcher. I'm on Bordeaux Street, one block off of St. Charles Avenue, and, interestingly, four blocks upriver from Napoleon, just as Constantinople it four blocks downriver from Napoleon. My house is much larger than that described in the novel.

    Best to all . . .


  2. the last picture made me fall out of my chair, it is EXACTLY how i imagined the Reilly house

  3. This is fabulous! Confederacy is my favorite book and I love the city of New Orleans but the best I could do on my tour there was to get a shot of myself in front of the Prytania. Kudos on the site, I am loving the immersion into Ignatius's world!

  4. As a heads up, in New Orleans, I believe an alley is the area between two houses. It doesn't have to be formal, marked, or anything. It just is. The first house in your photo set is dead on. I have driven up and down Constantinople St. hoping to see Ignatius...I haven't, but I have met lots of characters.

  5. Thanks so much for this Blog. Not having the luxury to go down to New Orleans to tour (but some familiarity with New Orleans from past trips), I have been using Google maps with Street View to look up the locations of the book, but correctly surmised some kind soul, like yourself, had already done the work. I did a virtual walk up and down Constantinople Street from St. Charles to the river and did come up with possibilities of most of the same houses you put here. There are a few more clues to consider from the text that might be helpful:
    (1) The structure besides being the smallest of the block is a "Lilliput of the eighties." (see (36)
    (2) "Along the block some people were out on their porches looking at him and the motorcycle. The shutters across the street that slowly flipped up and down...indicated that he had a consider audience." (37)
    (3) The house next door is "an architect's vision of a Jay Gould domestic" and has shutters. (38) It's not clear to me if the author means a house in the style of the Jay Gould mansion ( -or- a building of planned community (with cookie cutter structures) created as part of the expansion of the railroad overseen by Mr. Gould, in the same way he refers to the same buildings on the block as "Boss Tweed suburban stereotypes" (36)
    (4) The entire paragraph that describes the block has many details, and I could not find a single block that had all of these details, except perhaps, the 1300 and 1400 blocks that were, close having some pretty hideous modifications to otherwise beautiful late 1800 homes, akin to the description here:
    "a block of homes built in the 1880s and '90s, wooden Gothic and Gilden Age relics that dripped carving and scrollwork, Boss Tweed suburban stereotypes separated by alleys so narrow that a yardstick could almost bridge them and fenced in by iron pikes and low walls of crumbling brick. The larger houses had become impromptu apartment buildings, their porches converted into additional rooms. In some of the front yards there were aluminum carports, and bright aluminum awnings had been installed on one or two of the buildings..."

    Despite all this amazing detail, seeing as this is a work of fiction, it is entirely possible there is no such specific block or house and this is just a composite of images and approximate location, and that it may indeed be Mr. Byrne's old residence on an entirely different street...

  6. What hundred block of Constantinople are your photos from? I always imagined he would be in the 600-block. Whatcha think?