An insightful and lucid look at a forgotten artistic great
Biography gives painter and poet his proper place in history of Modernism
charisma to a career; living until 1974 does not.
And yet, even in later life, he showed all the symptoms of a man who had spent longer on active service than any of his fellow war poets and had suffered deeply from its shocks.
When I met him, very briefly, in 1972, he seemed to my young eyes both impossibly vulnerable, jumping at a banged door as he once jumped at His mother even criticised his letters pulpit. The Anathemata came later, an howitzer shells, but also impossibly home from the front, more troubled by even more knotted and complex excerpt exalted and ecstatic. orthographical lapses than by the chance from what was intended to be a much
There’s a final reason for the neglect of he might be killed, as he nearly was. longer poem. Further extracts and Jones, and it’s a little disingenuously Jones was briefly engaged to Gill’s passages were eventually published as omitted from that subtitle. Jones’s daughter Petra, but the marriage never The Sleeping Lord. Catholicism, to which he turned after happened; not, as some have thought, Jones’s art, like that of Cecil Collins, seeing Mass celebrated in a ruined house because Petra was the object of her deals with numinous states and behind Ypres, and which was then father’s incestuous desires, as another visionary presences. He started out as an encouraged by a highly cultured priest sister was, but because Jones, though illustrator, rejected the tradition of called Fr John O’Connor, who may have highly sexed, seems to have struggled to Raphael and learned to draw with the been the prototype for GK Chesterton’s form a mature relationship. pencil point, yielding a style that always Father Brown, renders him somewhat In Parenthesis appeared in 1937, and seems to shimmer off the paper or alien to the critical mainstream. canvas.in1961withanadmiringintroduction
Jones regarded the Mass as the by TS Eliot, who thought Jones the most ultimate work of art, a conviction that important British poet of the time. led some advisers to steer him away from It centres on the long monologue of holy orders, believing that too aesthetic a Dai Greatcoat, a composite figure out of view of the Eucharist precluded a Jones’s long exposure to Welsh myth (he genuine vocation. was part-Welsh in fact and totally so in
Jones studied carpentry at Eric Gill’s imagination), the Mabinogion, Ditchling community, but was as Shakespeare’s histories, European insufficient at that trade as he had been romance and scripture. at orthodox school subjects. Jones’s mother was Anglican, his Mathematics evaded him and he never father an Evangelical preacher who drew learned to spell. on the distinctive hywll of the Welsh
PUTTING the two aspects of the work together is not so much a departmental problem as a matter of surrendering to their unique aspects.Thomas Dilworth has spent his career studying Jones. A much fuller account of his subject’s wartime experience has already been published. He wrote three earlier books on Jones, and edited two more.
An even fuller version of the present biography will be available online for scholars. For the moment, though, this is as lucid, sympathetic and insightful a life as could be hoped for. Jones emerges from it strongly, if often perversely.
He is now surely ready to take his place at the head of 20th century English letters and art.