Miles, Jonathan 1952-

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Miles, Jonathan 1952-


Born 1952.


Home—Paris, France.


Art historian and writer.


Backgrounds to David Jones: A Study in Sources and Drafts, University of Wales Press (Cardiff, Wales), 1990.

Eric Gill & David Jones at Capel-y-ffin, Seren Books (Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, Wales), 1992.

(With Derek Shiel) David Jones: The Maker Unmade, Seren (Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, Wales), 1995.

The Wreck of the Medusa, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 2007, published as Medusa: The Shipwreck, the Scandal, the Masterpiece, Jonathan Cape (London, England), 2007.


Jonathan Miles is a writer whose works include books on the English poet and artist David Jones and a recounting of a famous sea disaster and the masterpiece it inspired. Miles is the author, with Derek Shiel, of David Jones: The Maker Unmade.

This illustrated book is a major critical study as well as a biography of Jones that introduces readers to both Jones's famous artwork and previously unpublished materials, including sketches, watercolors, carvings, engravings, and inscriptions. The authors place Jones within the context of twentieth-century British art and in relation to continental art movements as they discuss his many styles. Although he painted at a time when abstract art was gaining popularity, Jones was basically a religious artist who also painted dreamy landscapes and illustrated the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere.

In their study of Jones and his work, Miles and Shiel relate Jones's work to events in his life, including his experience as a soldier in World War I, his conversion to Catholicism, and his strong interest in neo-Romantic symbolism and Celtic mysticism. They also detail the author's personal trials and tribulations, including poverty, mental breakdowns, and his ordeal with agoraphobia, a condition in which panic attacks become so severe that people often do not leave their homes. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the authors "have unearthed a trove of Jones's … [works], which will surprise even those familiar with Jones's writing and art."

In The Wreck of the Medusa, published in England as Medusa: The Shipwreck, the Scandal, the Masterpiece, Miles interweaves the stories of a controversial shipwreck, the resulting political scandal, and the famous and initially highly controversial painting of the wreck by Théodore Géricault and titled The Raft of the Medusa, or Le Radeau de la Méduse.

The wreck occurred on July 2, 1816, when the French frigate Medusa struck a reef on its way to Senegal. The incompetent and cowardly captain and a select few of his cronies took the lifeboats for themselves, setting 148 passengers and crew adrift on a rickety, makeshift raft. Of those on the raft, only fifteen survived, primarily by resorting to murder and cannibalism. An exposé written by a survivor named Alexandre Corréard accused the corrupt French Restoration government for the tragedy because the captain was inexperienced but a friend of the government due to his anti-Bonapartist views. Writing in Booklist, Gilbert Taylor noted that the author "is wary about Correard's factual fidelity, lending historical depth to the narrative." Nevertheless, Corréard's report inspired Géricault to make his masterpiece, a political statement that depicts the desperate survivors of the raft as it strikes the Bank of Arguin off the coast of Mauritania and they are apparently rescued.

Commenting on the book, Miles told Anna Mundrow in an interview for the Boston Globe that it was the painting that first inspired him to write the book. Miles noted: "I was looking at it in the Louvre—this was post 9/11 and before the Iraq invasion—and it struck me that the Medusa story had echoes for our time, with the West being steered towards disaster by leaders who don't understand what they are doing and, in the case of [President George W.] Bush, for very mixed motives. Then I read about Corréard, a marvelous, combative figure … who kept battering at the doors of the establishment. All of that hooked me into the story."

In his book, the author delves into the intense friendship that developed between survivor Corréard and artist Géricault, who went so far as to bring parts of cadavers back to his studio to inspire his painting and make it realistic. He also explores how the artist used the painting to make several statements about the French government. For example, as noted by Kelly Grovier in her London Observer review of the book, only one black man was on the raft but Géricault made the decision to include three. According to Grovier, these three "comprise a micro-drama within the larger tragedy," adding: "At the time of the shipwreck and the exhibition of the painting, France had resisted calls to extricate itself from the slave trade, generating the fog of moral failure from which the work summons much of its power. By depicting one of the three black men as dead, another frozen in anguish, and a third transfixed on a distant salvation, Gericault was advocating a social trajectory ‘from despair and victimisation to an enlightened future.’"

The Wreck of the Medusa has received widespread critical acclaim from many reviewers. Noting that "the author of this excellent account, tells the story quickly and well," American Scholar contributor Anthony Brandt went on to write in the same review: "Miles has taken a shipwreck and placed it into its political and historical and artistic context. We can only hope he writes more books as fine and compelling as The Wreck of the Medusa." A Kirkus Reviews contributor referred to the book as a "diligent deconstruction of a shipwreck and a scandal."



American Scholar, autumn, 2007, Anthony Brandt, "Swept Away: When Gericault Painted The Raft of the Medusa, He Immersed Himself in His Subject's Horrors," p. 131.

Booklist, May 15, 2007, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Wreck of the Medusa, p. 15.

Boston Globe, Anna Mundow, "From Disaster, a Modern Vision is Born," interview with author.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2007, review of The Wreck of the Medusa.

Library Journal, April 15, 2007, Marie Marmo Mullaney, review of The Wreck of the Medusa, p. 103.

London Observer, April 22, 2007, Kelly Grovier, "Has the Sea Ever Been More Cruel?," review of Medusa: The Shipwreck, the Scandal, the Masterpiece.

London Review of Books, July 5, 2007, Graham Robb, "Come Back, You Bastards!," review of Medusa, p. 17.

Modern Language Review, July, 1992, M.J. Alexander, review of Backgrounds to David Jones: A Study in Sources and Drafts, p. 724.

National Post, April 21, 2007, Michael Prodger, review of Medusa, p. 16.

New York Times Book Review, December 2, 2007, Florence Williams, "Rocking the Boat," review of The Wreck of the Medusa, p. 44.

Publishers Weekly, August 12, 1996, review of David Jones: The Maker Unmade, p. 76; March 12, 2007, review of The Wreck of the Medusa, p. 44.

Spectator, April 21, 2007, William Boyd, "All at Sea."

Times Literary Supplement, April 5, 1996, Julian Bell, review of David Jones, p. 9; April 13, 2007, Alex Danchev, "Horror into Art," p. 4.

University of Toronto Quarterly, spring, 1997, William Blissett, review of Backgrounds to David Jones, p. 479.

Yale Review, January, 1998, Ben Downing, review of David Jones, p. 154.