Aleck Maury, Sportsman Analysis
by Caroline Gordon

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Virginia

*Virginia. Southern state in which Aleck spends his early years. His first memories are of the woods and pastures he sees from his doorway. Always the dark woodland calls him, with the “hallooing” of its hunters, the baying of their hounds, mingling risk with the scent of rain-soaked forest. Dogs and men share these adventures, both sniffing the air and communicating in sounds and gestures. As he reaches adulthood, Aleck attends the University of Virginia in Charlottesville—the institution founded by Thomas Jefferson for young gentlemen. Aleck is not a rogue, but he begrudges the time he spends cooped up in lecture rooms, from which he can hear the hounds in the distance. He receives the education befitting a gentleman, learns his classics, and scans blank verse, and eventually graduates honorably, but without a dollar in his pocket or any idea of how to make one.

Oakland

Oakland. Mississippi town just south of Memphis, Tennessee, in which Aleck accepts a position as president of a small seminary. Oakland is in a swampy lowland with patches of cotton fields. Aleck’s quest for income to feed a growing family and, more importantly, to find satisfactory hunting grounds takes him to several states during the course of his life, but it is finally in Mississippi that he is offered his opportunity for strongest professional growth. Pleased to discover that the seminary is already competently managed by an underling, he concentrates on acquiring and training new hunting dogs. However, the signs in Mississippi are not auspicious, as his favorite hunting dog dies during his trip to Oakland. Later, a swimming accident takes the son he has never been able to transform into a hunter.

*Poplar Bluff

*Poplar Bluff. Small town by the Black River in Missouri’s Ozark region where Aleck accepts a position in the fictional Rodman College. Missouri is another good hunting state where Aleck again manages to arrange his work schedule so he is free to fish every afternoon. For seven years his life follows a pleasant routine, until his wife, who has functioned largely as an impediment to his sporting plans, dies suddenly. Although his marriage is generally agreeable, his wife is never his soul mate; that role has been more fully filled by his favorite hunting dog.

*Florida

*Florida. Aleck’s sojourn in the lake region of Florida is brief. The region’s celebrated fishing turns out to be a disappointment because the lakes’ heavy eel-grass prevents fish from putting up the kind of fight that pleases true sportsmen.

*Tennessee

*Tennessee. State that Aleck comes to regard as a sportsman’s paradise, to which he repeatedly returns. Here he resumes his teaching career in Gloversville, lives with his wife, and gains the affection of Gypes, his beloved thoroughbred bird dog. Most importantly to him, however, Tennessee offers endless opportunities for fishing and hunting, and he moves through different regions of the state in this pursuit. Everywhere, he finds congenial folk with whom to discuss shooting squirrels, hunting quail, and stalking deer. To his delight, he has access to thirty thousand acres of land in which to roam and shoot. Aleck’s daughter is able to ensure his Tennessee retirement, even in his old age, with the promise of good hunting grounds.

Caroline Gordon knew Tennessee well. She was born on a farm in Todd County, Kentucky, close to the Tennessee border. This region was known as Black Patch after the local tobacco, which provided the livelihood for most of the farmers.

Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. “The Key to the Puzzle: The Literary Career of Caroline Gordon.” In Three Catholic Writers of the Modern South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985. Discussion of the book in terms of Caroline Gordon’s emphasis upon the classical literary tradition.

Cowan, Louise. “Aleck Maury, Epic Hero and Pilgrim.” In The Short Fiction of Caroline Gordon: A Critical Symposium, edited by Thomas H. Landess. Dallas: University of Dallas Press, 1972. Interpretation of Aleck as an Odysseus figure, in the novel and especially in the short stories.

Fraistat, Rose Ann C. Caroline Gordon as Novelist and Woman of Letters. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984. Consideration of Aleck as an example of Caroline Gordon’s lifelong concern with the artist’s role, which, she thought, was to create a code of honor that can combat society’s disintegration.

McDowell, Frederick P. W. Caroline Gordon. University of Minnesota Pamphlets on American Writers 59. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966. Discussion of Aleck Maury, Sportsman as an account of an outwardly uneventful life that is actually the story of “a Ulysses figure, always seeking the new and untried.”

Makowsky, Veronica A. Caroline Gordon: A Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. A feminist interpretation of Aleck Maury, Sportsman as a balance between a man’s potential for heroic action and “his tendency to desert it all at a whim and leave women to suffer the consequences.”

Stuckey, W. J. “The Sportsman as Hero.” In Caroline Gordon. New York: Twayne, 1972. Sympathetic appraisal of Aleck Maury as a candid and reliable narrator, set apart from other people by his exceptional responsiveness to nature. Praises the novel’s lightly ironic tone, dramatic structure, and comic resolution.