11 February 2010

Madison Jones, The Innocent (1957)

Madison Jones was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1925. He worked on his father's farm and studied at Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida, coming under the influence of Fugitive agrarians Donald Davidson (to whom he dedicates his third novel, A Buried Land (1963)), and Andrew Lytle (to whom he dedicates his second novel, Forest of the Night (1960)). Both of these men were among a number of co-authors of the highly important collection of essays published as I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (1930).*

On the half-title of The Innocent, Jones's first novel, it reads: 'This novel is set in the American South of today, where the old loyalties are dying and the new laws know nothing of the customs and habits of the past. When young Duncan Welsh returns from a broken marriage and broken job in the North, he finds himself surrounded by decay and violence - the violence of women and men and of horses. Desperate to still the angering hum of change he himself is driven to outrage, and the book moves to its bloody close with the implacable fury of a hill-country feud.'

Having just read - and with great pain, I have to add - Madison Jones's The Innocent (1957), I was eager to find out what fellow Southerner Flannery O'Connor made of the novel in Sally Fitzgerald's edited letters of O'Connor, The Habit of Being (1979). On 23 March 1957 O'Connor says 'The Commonweal had a lousy review of The Innocent by Madison Jones. It's a very fine novel.' However, O'Connor, a few months later, on 7 September 1957, says 'I didn't read it to take all that in myself. I suffer from generalized admiration or generalized dislike... '. Er... Of Jones's first two novels, Paul Binding, in Separate Country: A Literary Journey through the American South (1979) says: 'Interesting though they are, these novels seem to me so shot with ambiguities and authorial tensions as to be bewildering both in detail and overall vision. Where they are alive is where they are most confused.'

*The full twelve writers were: Donald Davidson, John Gould Fletcher, Henry Blue Kline, Lyle H. Lanier, Andrew Nelson Lytle, Herman Clarence Nixon, Frank Lawrence Owsley, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, John Donald Wade, Robert Penn Warren, Stark Young.

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