Mar 21

The Insanity of Jones


Again, a great podcast, this time about a likewise great story by Algernon blackwood (and thanks to the podcast the first I read of him).

I want to comment on the podcast and the story, in connection with the influences on Blackwood that are visible in the story and moreover in the character of Jones.

Jones' delusions (if delusion it is - but I think so), I think, are influenced by his 'knowledge' of platonism (dualistic world view), theology (devil-snake, justice, revenge), spiritism (which he rejects, although he doesn't rejects the idea of reincarnation) and the Spanish inquisition (torture) - like it is said in the podcast.

Outside of the character, Blackwood winks in a satirical, upside-down way at A Christmas Carol (the good ghosts turns into a corrupting bad one), and clearly is influenced by Poe. The inquisition's torture may reflect the torture in The Pit and the Pendulum, but I also thought about The Cask of Amontillado, in which the main character is driven insane by envying his friend (like Jones envies) and immures his imagined enemy alive.

The merit of Blackwood is, I think, to show us this Poesque insanity from within the character on a very realistic way. At the end the narrative point of view turns 180 degrees, and we see the psychopath that the victim sees. It gives rise to the idea that Blackwood was a very good psychologist, and it also gives rise to the question: was Jones accountable or just mentally ill?

What I want to know is this: was Blackwood ahead of his time as a sort of avant-garde psychiatrist, or was he influenced on this aspect too by some knowledge or figure of his time? And are there more influences on Blackwood and especially this story to point out?

What a great observation -- I think we're so used to this idea now that Brandon and I lost sight of the novelty of writing from the perspective of the afflicted character. Brandon is really the expert in non-genre literary history, so he may be able to point out some earlier examples of this move. But from my perspective at least, I think you've got it right in envisioning Blackwood trying to imagine what it would be like to be one of Poe's characters (or maybe Hamlet, even) and then writing from that perspective.


Next month we're covering Robert W. Chambers's "The Repairer of Reputations" which is contemporary to "The Insanity of Jones" and takes up some of the same questions, though in a different manner. So it may be that this was a topic of interest in Edwardian Britain and America.

I was wracking my brain trying to think of anglophone writers who were writing about the problems of consciousness and subjectivity that Algernon Blackwood is touching on in this story and couldn't really think of any. The first thing that popped into my mind was Notes from the Underground by Dostoevsky, but that wasn't published in English until the the early 19-teens. It would be a great research question to find out who was writing non-genre fiction about the darkness produced by the internality of characters in fiction in the english speaking world prior to weird fiction writers exploring it, as Blackwood does.



I'm looking forward to the podcast about Robert W. Chambers tale to compare those thoughts about psychological insight and insanity. I haven't read Notes from the Underground yet, but I did read Crime and Punishment, which I love because of the realistic perspective from within this pretty dark and at least 'deviant' character Raskolnikov. And the question still stands: who did write similar dark psychological tales prior to the tales in genre fiction we now speak of? When I may find something, I shall put it forward in this forum.

New Posts
  • Just finished reading this story of Poe, and I haven't gone through the podcast yet, but I really liked this detective story by Poe, the story starts weirdly enough where we are given kind of info dump by Poe, regarding people who are analysts and people who are genius. From my understanding what he wanted to say was people who read other people can be termed as genius, because analysts operate within a given set of rules, like chess players who follow a stringent set of rules to win. From this we are quickly introduced to our watsonesque narrator who meets an eccentric man in Paris, called as Dupin, and they quickly hit it off, as they share the same interests. But Dupin is not your normal person, who can see through people as if he watching someone through a window, and the way he arrives at conclusions seemed so much like Sherlock Holmes to me. Then we have mysterious murders happening in Rue Morgue, and police find themselves at wit's end finding exactly what can be motive for murders, also the witnesses can't seem to identify the second voice in the room which seems harsh, and unidentifiable. The way Dupin arrives at conclusion is fantastic, and reminds the methods Sherlock Holmes methods. I don't know who inspired whom but Dupin & Sherlock have lot of characteristics in common, they are interested only in solving the mystery, and finding out the truth, although Sherlock sometimes does show some humane characteristics. Also Dupin is clearly french while Sherlock also seems to have some French connection, but are interested in music, although Dupin seems to be more inclined towards theater and books.
  • What an odd story! As with a few before it, I didn't enjoy this one much when reading it, but the discussion in the episode really helped put a better perspective on it. In particular I really liked the framing of it as a plague story with the spectre of cholera hanging over everything (for some reason it hadn't occurred to me that the omen of death was an omen of them getting cholera), and the idea of it as a reaction to the science of the Enlightenment. Thanks also for making the weird political digression make sense! It completely boggled my mind what it had to do with anything else in the story. I'm still not completely convinced, but I guess it worked for Poe. Overall I thought this story had a lot of great set-up; the evocative description of the cholera epidemic and the tantalizing hints of the tomes in the library would make an excellent introduction to a different weird story. As it stands, though, the description of the beast and the revelation about it didn't do anything for me. Maybe that's a problem of perspective as a modern reader, which at least would fit with the theme of the story in a roundabout sort of way.
  • Great podcast. About the political situation in the 1840’s there was in 1848 an outbreak almost simultaneously of revolutionwry reform of governments all over the place. The old monarchies were changed to the forms that held until World War One. A history podcast I listen to covers this year in a whole series. It is called “Revolutions” it is done by Mike Duncan. Each series he covers a different revolution and in series 7 he covers 1848. It is about 20 some episodes each from 30 to 50 mins long about this year. I’m not this far in his podcast yet, I’m on series 5 currently, but each episode is extremely well made and informative while being entertaining. I’m sure Poe was current with the political tempest that was brewing at the time he wrote this story. It makes me even more interested to get to this series about the history.

Claytemple Media is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to