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Island of Mljet and the Inhabitants of Dubrovnik in the Novel Go to the Widow Maker by James Jones

Slavica Stojan

Puni tekst: hrvatski pdf 3.768 Kb

str. 265-312

preuzimanja: 1.107



James Jones (1921-1977), author of the bestseller From Here to Eternity (1951), equally acclaimed by both critics and readers, was widely acknowledged in the communist Yugoslavia as left-oriented writer and American veteran of World War II. The fact that the translation of his works met with a good reception in Yugoslavia seems to have prompted his visit to Dubrovnik in 1961, an episode unknown even to his numerous biographers and literary critics. His encounter with the outlying islands and the sea world surrounding Dubrovnik Jones described in the novel Go to the Widow Maker, which, unfortunately, failed to share the popularity of his first prize-winning novel. This article is based on the documents which, under the heading Yugoslavian trip, have been filed at Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of Texas University in Austin, as well as on the oral testimonies of the members of Jones’s underwater expedition. In the novel Go to the Widow Maker Jones employs the underwater diving experience as a metaphor for his evolved views of male behaviour, love and sexual relations between men and women. Jones’s stay in Dubrovnik proved a challenge to his intimate life. Temporarily separated from his wife, with whom he is passionately in love, Jones is tormented by the suspicion of her infidelity, the roots of which should be sought in his wife’s wild youth. As a major literary project he chooses the experience of underwater diving, which he considered a symbolic, attractive and complex experience, a challenge he associated with insecurity and anxiety of the first years of his marriage. A desire to live on the edge he sees as the only remaining form of individualism. Confrontation with an unknown underwater world helps James face certain human and sexual patterns of his own male identitity and bring them in relation with the moral and social values. While embarking upon his new novel, Jones believed that his experience of the underwater world, paralleled by different gender relations, would be a rich source for developing his story. Apparently, it proved otherwise. Jones lacked the wealth of fabric. Under a strong impression of this new experience, Jones burdens his novel with documentary details of the diving technique, instructions and warnings issued by the instructor, as well as descriptions of the latter’s skilful movement through water. Moreover, Jones’s narrative is but partly constructed on his own experience, most of the descriptions of underwater expeditions and fishing being borrowed from the narration of his Dubrovnik diving instructor. Incapacity to go scuba-diving on his own haunted Jones while on Mljet, but his frustration mounted after the next experience on Jamaica where, for lack of experienced instructor, he was not able to go diving at all. Thus, Jones drew all the details about the sea and underwater world from his Mljet experience and, especially, from his instructor’s tales. However, for the setting of his story Jones wanted a world famous locality and not a small Adriatic island. During James’s visit to Jamaica in 1962, the state won its full independence and became a popular American holiday destination, which, the writer believed, would help his novel find its way to the readers. Jamaica, thus, proved the best choice, as it is there that Jones sets his whole experience of the sea world which, in reality, was gained in the waters of Mljet.

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