Mar 21

The Insanity of Jones

3 comments

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.

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