Where No Flag Flies: Donald Davidson and the Southern Resistance

Where No Flag Flies: Donald Davidson and the Southern Resistance

Where No Flag Flies: Donald Davidson and the Southern Resistance

Where No Flag Flies: Donald Davidson and the Southern Resistance


Donald Davidson (1893-1968) may well be the most unjustifiably neglected figure in twentieth-century southern literature. One of the most important poets of the Fugitive movement, he also produced a substantial body of literary criticism, the libretto for an American folk opera, a widely used composition textbook, and the recently discovered novel The Big Ballad Jamboree. As a social and political activist, Davidson had significant impact on conservative thought in this century, imfluencing important scholars from Cleanth Brooks to M. E. Bradford.

Despite these accomplishments, Donald Davidson has received little critical attention from either the literary or the southern scholarly community. Where No Flag Flies is Mark Royden Winchell's redress of this critical disservice. A comprehensive intellectual biography of Davidson, this seminal work offers a complete narrative of Davidson's life with all of its triumphs and losses, frustrations and fulfillments.

Winchell provides the reader with more than a simple study of a man and his achievements; he paints a complete portrait of the times in which Davidson published, from the 1930s to the early 1960s. Davidson was more directly involved in political and social activities than most writers of his generation, and Winchell provides the context, both literary and historical, in which Davidson's opinions and works developed. At the same time, Winchell offers detailed evaluations of Davidson's poetry, fiction, historical writings, and essays.

Drawing upon a wealth of previously unpublished archival material, including Davidson's letters and diary, Where No Flag Flies provides unique access to one of the most original minds of the twentieth-century South. Donald Davidson may not have achieved the recognition he deserved, but this remarkable biography finally makes it possible for a considerable literary audience to discover his true achievement.


On March 3, 1993, I received a phone call from Charles Hamel, publisher of the Southern Partisan magazine. “I have some sad news to report, ” he said. “Mel died this morning.” I did not have to ask “Mel who?” To the many friends and admirers of M. E. Bradford, there was only one “Mel.” He was a true believer in the causes to which he was devoted, but also, in the hackneyed phrase that in his case really did apply, a scholar and a gentleman. He left an impressive legacy of critical writing on literature, rhetoric, history, and politics. But, as is often the case when a productive man dies before his time (Mel was only fifty-eight when he left us), there was also work left undone. The major project that engaged him at the time of his death was a biography of his old teacher and mentor Donald Davidson. Mel had accumulated several boxes of photocopied letters and other documents, but the only text he had written was a long chapter on Davidson's later poetry. This was not a project that was far enough along to be “completed” by someone else. If a life of Davidson were to be written, another biographer would have to do the job.

At the request of Mel's widow, Marie, I undertook this task in 1995. When writing my biography of Cleanth Brooks (a project Mel himself had recommended to me), I had the opportunity to visit my subject on several occasions during the last three years of his life. Not having known Davidson, I was approaching a stranger. Nevertheless, I have come to appreciate the affection and loyalty that Davidson inspired in so many of his former students. Donald Davidson was a complex and imperfect man but one whose achievements demand more attention than they have received from the community of scholars.

Davidson may well be the most unjustifiably neglected figure in twentieth- century southern literature. He is universally regarded as one of the four most important poets of the Fugitive movement, which is itself one of the two most . . .

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