Madison Jones, novelist, was born in Nashville and grew up on a farm located on Franklin Pike. After military service in and immediately after World War II, Jones completed a B.A. at Vanderbilt University, where he studied under Monroe Spears and Donald Davidson. He earned a M.A. at the University of Florida, where he studied fiction writing under Andrew Nelson Lytle, and then completed additional graduate work. In 1954 Jones won a Sewanee Review fellowship and taught at the University of Tennessee (1955-56). In 1956 he began his long teaching career at Auburn University, from which he retired as writer-in-residence in 1987. Jones and his wife, Shailah, continue to live in Auburn, Alabama, but the country of his imagination is Tennessee, where he began his life and his career.
From the beginning, Jones seemed to realize that the novel was his natural mode. He has written short stories, and indeed, some of his novels, including his penultimate one, To the Winds, are constructed of sequences or chapters that can stand alone as stories. He also has written the novellas An Exile (1967) and Nashville 1864: The Dying of the Light (1997). But, from The Innocent (1957) through Last Things (1989) and To the Winds (1996), Jones has proved himself a quintessential novelist. In addition to fiction, he occasionally publishes criticism in the Sewanee Review, Southern Review, and elsewhere.
Although comedy plays a role in his fiction, Jones's view of the world and man's place in it is tragic. There is humor in such sequences as “Zoo” in To the Winds, and Jones's version of frontier humor is anti-pastoral, recalling the comedy of William Faulkner. But Jones has an unflinching view of man's depravity and its consequences. William Hoffman correctly views Jones as a bedrock Calvinist whose characters remain flawed and whose submission to sin requires punishment. Jones repeats this pattern throughout his novels, although the tragic vision of Nashville 1864 is more nearly that of communal rather than individual fate. As Allen Tate recognized, Jones seems to have been most influenced by Thomas Hardy.
Jones's career has seen many vicissitudes. First published by such large trade houses as Harcourt Brace, Viking, and Doubleday, Jones's work is now distributed by smaller houses such as Longstreet Press and J. S. Sanders and Company. An Exile was made into a movie, though an undistinguished one. Hollywood has purchased an option on what critics consider his best work, A Cry of Absence (1971) and actively considered Nashville 1864. Neither work has yet been filmed.
Jones exhibits a rich and exact sense of place and a keen ear for spoken language, including various southern idioms. He is a natural maker of strong scenes and moving sequences of consequential actions. His work, like that of others of his generation, has not achieved the popularity or respect it deserves. A special issue of Chattahoochie Review (Volume 18, Fall 1996) has helped to repair the critical neglect that has often accompanied his fiction. Madison Jones is a novelist of enduring power, and his vision of humankind is illumined by a durable fire.